Free Trade Today

Article excerpt

Free Trade Today by Jagdish Bhagwati Princeton University Press * 2002 * 128 pages * $35.00 hardcover; $14.95 paperback

In no other area is the gulf of opinion between economists and the general public wider than in the field of free trade. While economists nearly unanimously embrace the idea that free trade increases choices, lowers prices, and raises real incomes for citizens in the countries involved, a significant percentage of the general public endorses all sorts of protectionist policies, including tariffs, export subsidies, and import quotas. Economists face an uphill battle in convincing a skeptical public of the merits of free trade for one simple reason: free trade does not benefit everyone equally. Furthermore, the losses from free trade, such as unemployment caused by factories moving overseas, are more obvious to the casual observer than the myriad real but hidden benefits, such as better products, lower prices, and higher exports.

Picking up the banner of economic freedom in international trade is Jagdish Bhagwati, a Columbia University professor widely considered by academic economists to be the world's foremost spokesman for free trade and a likely future winner of the Nobel Prize in economics. In his newest book, Free Trade Today, he attempts, with a great deal of success, to bridge the gap between perception and reality in international trade.

This short and eminently readable book is based on three lectures he gave at the Stockholm School of Economics in the late 1990s. The book is divided into an examination of the historical case for free trade, a look at the current objections voiced by the motley assortment of protesters at any international economics meeting nowadays, and suggestions about how to achieve the goal of increased international economic cooperation in today's political climate.

The book is most successful in addressing the current crop of threats to free trade. The general reader's attention may stray during the first chapter where Bhagwati examines the protectionist arguments of economists from the distant past. …