The Poor Get Poorer

Robert B. Reich reviews Fair Trade for All: How Trade Can Promote Development, by Joseph E. Stiglitz and Andrew Charlton, in the New York Times Book Review:

Reic184It is not exactly a new debate. On my bookshelf sits “Which? Protection or Free Trade,” edited by H. W. Furber and published in Boston in 1888. That was some 70 years after the British economist David Ricardo first suggested that the gains from trade exceed the losses regardless of whether trading partners are more or less economically advanced, as each nation shifts to where it has a comparative advantage. Most economists and policy makers now accept Ricardo’s argument, although the popular debate over the merits of free trade continues.

The new and more interesting debate is about how the benefits of trade should be shared. During the 1990’s, the so-called Washington consensus of officials from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and United States Treasury Department thought the best way to spur growth in developing nations was for them to quickly lower their trade barriers and deregulate their markets. But that prescription hasn’t worked especially well, even though it still shapes American trade policy. Apart from China and India, the gap between rich and poor nations has continued to widen. More than two billion people worldwide live on the equivalent of less than a dollar a day. Trade talks initiated in Doha, Qatar, in 2001, were intended to redress the balance but have gone nowhere. The last major international meeting, in 2003 in Cancún, Mexico, ended in failure and recrimination, and there’s been little progress since. The world’s poorer nations think the richer ones are still offering a lousy deal.

In their provocative book, “Fair Trade for All,” Joseph E. Stiglitz, a professor of economics at Columbia, and Andrew Charlton, a research officer at the London School of Economics, argue that the poorer nations are right.

More here.