Friday, October 12, 2007

Pew: Trade, free markets mostly embraced; Immigration not so much

++Addition++John Savage and Randall Parker weigh in. Randall counts 48 countries, including the Palestinian territories, but I'm still coming up with 47. John isn't surprised that the US ranks dead last in its citizenry's support for free trade. In the body of the full report, Pew reveals that the US swing from five years ago, when the same survey was conducted, represents the greatest negative shifting among the 47 countries polled (from 78% of Americans saying they thought free trade was "good for the US" in 2002, compared to only 59% in 2007).

I suspect it's not the idea of free trade per se that is feeding into the negative perception as much as it is unreciprocated open trade policies that the US pushes in return for trade policies based on economic nationalism, especially in China, where our one-sided 'free trade' has lead to a historic trade deficit and an accentuated disadvantage for US producers and service providers that is only now, with the precipitous dollar drop, starting to balance out.

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Pew recently released the results of an interesting survey on international attitudes toward free trade, immigration, and democracy. It's worth taking a look at.

The bottom line comes in two parts: Firstly, nations overwhelmingly like being able to trade with other nations and favor free market economies over those that are centrally-planned. Pew is a trustworthy source, but in spite of this it strains credulity to see that, of the 47 nations polled, support for free trade (59%) was the very lowest in the United States.

Secondily, nations are also overwhelmingly opposed to the unfettered flow of people and want their respective governments to "further restrict and control" immigration (with over 70% favoring greater restriction and less than 26% opposing it).

Only three of the 47 countries bucked this trend: The Palestinian territories (does anyone actually immigrate there? I was under the impression that the flow of people was mostly one of emigration), Japan (barely, and since it has so few immigrants it is not particularly surprising that the population is ambivalent toward it), and South Korea (where citizenship is garnered either by marrying a native Korean--and one-fifth of the Korean men who marry each year join in union with a non-Korean, usually of Southeast Asian descent--or by bringing big bucks into the economy).

The idea that free trade and free flow of people are inevitably linked is falacious. The former can be had without the latter. The errant assertion relies on the assumption that people are indistinguishable economic units, blank slates that can be equally educated, assimilated, and utilized across the globe in equal capacities. That conception of human resources is antiquated, as Gregory Clark lays out in A Farewell to Alms (and has been less holistically argued in academia for decades and more recently across the blogosphere).

A barrel of oil from Saudi Arabia and another one from Canada, once they have been through a US refinery and turned into gasoline, are no longer appreciably distinct. Workers from each of these countries, however, will remain distinguishable from one another (and from other Americans, to a varying degree) once they've been through the American 'assimilation process' (whatever exactly that is). They will retain different temperments, different views on how society should be structured, different intellectual capabilities, different views on the value of work, etc.

Whether that slab of beef came from Kansas or Brazil matters less to the people of Missouri than does whether their neighbor just moved from Kansas or Brazil.

That the free trade and the free flow of people are not two sides of the same coin is obfuscated more by how similar the two concepts are semantically. Both involve the free movement of things, right? Except free trade has an obvious caveat--people only import things that they want to use and consume, things that they want to be part of their lives. If Bolivians don't want to buy Ford automobiles, Fords won't be imported into Bolivia. If Spaniards don't want large numbers of Moroccans living in their midst, why should they not similarly be able to restrict immigration from Morocco?

Further, in a competitive, global economy, nations must compete with one another. Any corporation that offered a cubicle, computer, and paycheck to whoever desired a job with the company wouldn't be in business for long. The corporation hires only those that will add value. Natives similarly want those who become their fellow residents to benefit them, the difference being that while a corporation's objectives are primarily economic, people employ a more expansive metric in evaluating what is desirable in a person: Cultural closeness, official language fluency, temperment, and the like.

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