October 4, 2007

EARLIER, I NOTED A POLL suggesting that Americans — even Republicans — are turning against free trade. But Frank Newport observes:

We don’t know how Republican voters may feel about free trade in the abstract. Whar we learn from this question allows one to say something like this: “By a two to one margin, the majority of Republican voters can be swayed to say that foreign trade is bad when they listen to a particular set of arguments both for and against it as presented in this particular question wording.” (The headline by the way references “free” trade while the question uses the phrase “foreign” trade).

It’s also not entirely clear if Republicans have “grown” skeptical on foreign trade. The time point comparison made in the article is to a 1999 WSJ/NBC poll which asked an apparently different question about whether trade deals had helped or hurt the U.S. Comparing the results of that question wording to the results of the current question wording usually would not be something that in and of itself would form the basis for a conclusion about changes in attitudes over time.

Sounds like the poll is pretty iffy. I certainly think that a shift toward U.S. protectionism would be a serious mistake. So does Barack Obama’s economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee:

“Globalization” means free trade and various deregulations that supposedly put downward pressure on American wages because of imports from low-wage countries. Goolsbee, however, says globalization is responsible for “a small fraction” of today’s income disparities. He says “60 to 70 percent of the economy faces virtually no international competition.” America’s 18.5 million government employees have little to fear from free trade; neither do auto mechanics, dentists and many others.

Goolsbee’s rough estimate is that technology — meaning all that the phrase “information economy” denotes — accounts for more than 80 percent of the increase in earnings disparities, whereas trade accounts for much less than 20 percent. This is something congressional Democrats need to hear from a Democratic economist as they resist trade agreements with South Korea and such minor economic powers as Peru, Panama and Colombia.

Yes, they do. And it won’t hurt for Republicans to hear it, either. Related item here.

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