Trade, Inequality, and Perspective

Matt Yglesias writes:

I’ve been eagerly awaiting my opportunity to say something about Paul Krugman’s Brookings paper on trade and inequality but it turns out to be the case that real economics involves a lot of math I can’t follow. My best understanding is that his conclusion is that it’s . . . complicated. Trade with China in the 21st century may be a much bigger driver of inequality than earlier studies done in an earlier period indicated, but then again it may not be.

Matt sensibly concludes that if you want to bring down U.S. inequality, there are much better ways of doing that than restricting trade with China. That’s right. Nationalist egalitarians would be much better served by arguing for, say, less welfare for military contractors and more welfare for poor people. Of course, globalist egalitarians should die in the last ditch to avoid further restrictions on Chinese imports, whether or not it has any effect on inequality between already rich U.S. passport holders.

In The Conscience of a Liberal, Krugman seemed to want to minimize all non-political explanations of rising inequality, like trade. Is he now easing off his super-strong insistence on explaining inequality almost entirely in terms of politics and norms? But I suppose insufficient protectionism would be a matter of politics and norms, too, if you want to look at it that way.

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