The Debate about Trade: Some small steps towards one
In: Proceedings of the Conference on Globalization and Its Discontents
This paper addresses the discussion about the desirability of international trade. It starts out from the stylized observation that trade economists and ‘anti-globalists’ not only reject each others conclusions, but also the validity of the reference frame in which the other side makes its arguments. We mend for this problem, constructing a rational dialogue between the various parties by making differences in criteria and modes of analysis explicit. Instead of seeking to develop a comprehensive common framework, we adopt a ‘pluralist’ position, in which we only create a common structure in so far as necessary for meaningful dialogue. We judge the effects of trade as they follow from both the analytical models used by proponents and opponents and from the perspectives of both the criteria used by proponents and opponents. Applying different criteria to both standard and poverty-sensitive trade models, we find that both camps have valid cases, but also that diagonally opposite positions do not necessarily lead to different judgements regarding the desirability of trade. Once differences in preconceptions and criteria are cleared, a fruitful debate is therefore possible. We conclude that the debate about free trade cannot be settled by economics and should in the end take place in the moral and political arena.
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