Are there good reasons to be anti-free trade?

Arguments against free trade that seem the most legitimate to me hinge on the idea that the playing field isn’t particularly level, with one party not enforcing things like environmental regulations or something. I note too that the TPP agreement seems to contain language that would let a company sue if a party to the agreement enacts regulation against it (or at least that’s how it was explained to me), e.g. Phillip Morris suing the government of X because it’s running an anti-smoking campaign.

However, these arguments are against the details of particular agreements, rather than systemic problems with free trade. I feel that anti-free trade rhetoric is economically naive at best and xenophobic and racist at worst.

Am I wrong?


There are always pros as well as cons in anything, but I think you are right…the pros of free trade far outstrip the negatives, and I can’t think of an example of countries engaging in ‘free trade’ that didn’t help everyone involved in the long run. I suppose there are such examples, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head that are actually free trade situations and not something akin to colonial exploitation that isn’t really anything like ‘free trade’.

Arguably, free trade can hinder developing countries even in cases where the trade isn’t being undertaken in a nefarious, colonial-style way.

In one case, the country isn’t a genuine democracy nor free market, so the money just goes to help finance the leadership of the country, who can then use that money and their increased access to modern goods to help continue to suppress the populace.

In the other case, the middle class of the country does reap the rewards of the increased money and extra freedom, leading them to wonder why they want to continue living in a backwards, undeveloped country, and so they choose to leave it, creating a brain drain on their home country, depriving it of the sorts of people who would help to have continued developing it into an actual modern country.

Do you believe in national sovereignty?

Should governments build or protect nascent industries to strengthen their national economy? Free trade impinges on that. Should every nation have a certain amount of control and autonomy over food, power, and water use in their own country? Free trade impinges on that.

Yes, that is how most of the great industrial economies of the world including those of America, Germany, and Japan developed.

Is that for strategic reasons? What about, say, consumer electronics? Is the idea to create a protectionist environment in order to gain a comparative advantage? Does that really work of if the nascent industry isn’t really competing in a free market?

Well, everything is for strategic reasons. lol.

If you don’t have anyone in country willing to start a automobile company, it makes sense to have “free trade” on cars. You might try to get some concessions, like build a factory here or buy our batteries or something, but ok you’re bringing in cars. But if you’ve got some native people who can viably start a factory, build and sell cars at a reasonable price, create good jobs and maybe down the line be an export business it make sense to defend that baby native car business. You make foreign cars more expensive until they get off the ground - start making a profit and get over their start up costs.

That smacks of cronyism. If a nascent car company cannot manufacture a car people want, should they be doing it? Or are you envisioning a scenario where a foreign manufacturer is dumping cars on the local market at a loss?

BTW, when I said strategic, I meant in a military sense. For example, a country wants native car companies so that when it goes to war, it can call on that industry to make tanks, etc.

Why can’t they just buy foreign tanks? Are you some kind of protectionist?
But seriously, yeah it could be cronyism but it could also be wanting jobs and businesses to flourish in your own damn country.

In some instances, free trade agreements are akin to forcing Nissan to buy parts from Toyota.

The concept of comparative advantage that underlies the ideas behind free trade is something that gets overwhelming support among economists. Here’s an interesting take on things that economists agree on from the 2012 IGM Economic Experts Panel hosted by Univ of Chicago. Some quotes on trade:

Not directly on point for the OP since he’s mostly calling out irrationality or ignorance as reasons to oppose free trade.

This is directly on point for the OP. Someone could oppose free trade because they, or in the case of politicians, their constituents and donors, would be among the likely losers of enhanced competition that results from removing trade barriers. It’s possible to be in one of those groups and rationally support a policy that is better for your own interests over the interests of the broader groups affected.

There’s the other piece already brought up earlier in the thread, and not in the article, that not every trade agreement necessarily is “freer” than what existed before. Krugman actually had come out as a “lukewarm opponent” of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t lump himself among the description of free trade opponents in the Atlantic article. :wink: As of October wanted to assess what seemed to be changes to provisions that were less free/efficient. That provides us a clear example of being able to oppose specific examples of supposedly free trade while still supporting free trade in general.

I think it’s the other way around…you are protecting your industries by not allowing or seriously handicapping other outside products, which means your local industries have a virtual monopoly on goods and services in the protected sectors. That certainly helps those employed or owning those protected sectors but hurts basically everyone else by forcing your people to have to buy from Nissan when perhaps a Chevy or Citron would be a better fit, especially if Nissan knows it can give it’s protected market whatever crap they want and still out compete the other companies.

As for tanks, I don’t think most modern main battle tanks can or are cranked out quickly by local companies using only local resources…the days of massive numbers of home grown T-34s or Sherman tanks are kind of over, and at some level you are bringing in some parts from outside of your borders. The US MBTs for instance have parts from all over, and are arguable still among the best in the world, despite being one of the older modern designs (except for that pesky logistics issue with guzzling gas :p).

But maybe Citron has a cheaper shock absorber than Chevrolet and by allowing Chevy to use their own, simply for selfish corporate reasons, we are not allowing Chevy buyers to get their best deal on a car? Just seems wrong somehow. Chevy buyers must accept the virtual Chevy monopoly on shock absorbers for Chevy cars?

The Great Depression of the 1870s-1890s in Europe spring to mind. Free trade helps both parties when they’re on a relatively level playing field re: costs of production, productivity and so on. When one country is leagues ahead and can flood the other with cheap goods in one sector or another, the other party tends to suffer, which prevents them from investing in ways to reach production parity, which causes further unemployment etc…
Right now, free trade with the US is killing Mexican agriculture for example - which is why so many of them want to hop the fence.

This is an example of the human mind’s difficulty in grasping certain concepts.

For us, it’s just as bad to lose at Monopoly as it is to lose at Chess. But when you examine both games from a purely logical standpoint, in Chess even the winner comes out of the game behind where he started. In any game, the winner in Chess is going to have lost pieces and thereby going to be at a worse position than he had been prior to engaging in the activity. And then if you look at Monopoly, you’ll find that at the end of the game even the loser will most probably end up higher than they started the game (if you include the value of assets), so just playing the game still was an advantage to them despite coming in as the “loser”.

It’s hard for us to accept the concepts of winning down or losing up, even though (as shown), they can be readily demonstrated.

Here’s the bottom line: People who “believe in free trade” are idiots or liars. As Kobal2 said, trade restriction has it’s advantages, sometimes has it’s detriments. As long as nations exist, or really even any political region that has some authority over levies, taxes or subsidies, there will never be true “free trade”. It is a phantom. Businesses and Governments want less or more restrictions as it benefits them. Sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for selfish reasons.

That’s an odd definition of winning. In Monopoly having money is directly related to winning, but in chess it is more the value of your pieces relative to your opponent.
In the economy as a whole it makes sense for some set of workers to lose to better value ones overseas though. From the perspective of that worker free trade is a loss even if the economy improves as a whole. And the pawn is not too thrilled about a pawn/Knight exchange either (see Brunner’s Squares of the City.)

Sorry, that’s a bit harsh. Just not a fan of economic “religions”.

Rent-seeking always has a beneficiary.

I am opposed to the TPP for one simple reason: a government which is acting in your best interests doesn’t need to go behind your back to create a law. If they’re trying to hide a new law from you, it’s because they’re trying to fuck you over.

Please expand, or is spouting the meme de jour all you got?