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Look Before You Leap: The Economics of Free Trade and Income Redistribution

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  • Erich Gundlach
  • Albert de Vaal

Abstract

Economists tend to exalt the virtues of free international trade, while politicians are more skeptical. This paper suggests that this is the case because politicians mainly worry about the income distribution effects of trade liberalization, while economists focus on efficiency. Using textbook economic analyses we show that compensating the income distribution effects of free trade may be more complicated and hazardous than is often assumed, at least from a comparative static point of view. Hence politicians may favor trade liberalization only when distributional effects are ignored. By using a multitude of analytical tools and approaches, our paper also makes a useful teaching case for undergraduate students to test and gear their thinking about trade policy issues

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Kiel Institute for the World Economy in its series Kiel Working Papers with number 1583.

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Length: 24 pages
Date of creation: Jan 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:kie:kieliw:1583

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Keywords: Trade policy; income distribution; compensation schemes; undergraduate teaching;

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  1. Reint Gropp & Liam P. Ebrill & Janet Gale Stotsky, 1999. "Revenue Implications of Trade Liberalization," IMF Occasional Papers 180, International Monetary Fund.
  2. Christian Broda & Nuno Limao & David E. Weinstein, 2008. "Optimal Tariffs and Market Power: The Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(5), pages 2032-65, December.
  3. Dow, James & da Costa Werlang, Sergio Ribeiro, 1992. "Homothetic preferences," Journal of Mathematical Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(4), pages 389-394.
  4. Dixit, Avinash & Norman, Victor, 1986. "Gains from trade without lump-sum compensation," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(1-2), pages 111-122, August.
  5. Christopher S. P. Magee & Stephen P. Magee, 2008. "The United States is a Small Country in World Trade," Review of International Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 16(5), pages 990-1004, November.
  6. Gordon, Roger & Li, Wei, 2009. "Tax structures in developing countries: Many puzzles and a possible explanation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(7-8), pages 855-866, August.
  7. Kevin H. O'Rourke & Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2001. "Globalization and History: The Evolution of a Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Economy," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262650592, December.
  8. Peter K. Schott, 2001. "Do Rich and Poor Countries Specialize in a Different Mix of Goods? Evidence from Product-Level US Trade Data," NBER Working Papers 8492, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Gerlinde Sinn & Hans-Werner Sinn, 1994. "Jumpstart: The Economic Unification of Germany," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262691728, December.
  10. Hunter, Linda, 1991. "The contribution of nonhomothetic preferences to trade," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(3-4), pages 345-358, May.
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