THE MYTH OF FREE TRADE

A PLAN FOR AMERICA'S ECONOMIC REVIVAL

Southern Methodist University professor Batra, whose contributions to economics are about on a par with what creationists have done for earth science, is at it again. This time, the author of The Great Depression of 1990 and other nonconformist rants takes on Adam Smith and laissez-faire, making what he confidently asserts is ``the first...systematic and cogent case for protectionism.'' With frequent breaks to settle his scores with his ``vociferous critics,'' and with reminders of the timely warnings he offered an inattentive establishment in years past, Batra takes the position that manufacturing, not trade, is the main source of a modern nation's prosperity. Free trade, he contends, has proved a disaster for the US since the 1970's, undermining domestic industry and precipitating a sharp drop in inflation-adjusted wages for up to 80% of the population. Assuming that American suppliers can't produce goods as cheaply or as well as offshore rivals that have access to a vast pool of low-cost labor, Batra gets down to business with a series of provocative proposals for remedial action. The centerpiece of his program (dubbed ``competitive protectionism'') is an immediate hike in import duties from the current average of 5% to at least 40%. And while shielding US enterprise from foreign predators, the author would ensure that there are no dominant, let alone monopolistic, firms in any field. This master plan, Batra maintains, could not only put America's productivity and real income into orbit but also trigger steep declines in budget deficits, energy prices, and global pollution. Beyond his self-serving analyses of legislation like the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 (which he repeatedly refers to as ``Hawley-Smoot''), Batra seems more intent on creating a plausible populist agenda than in getting at the truth of complex economic issues. A perversely contrarian tract, then, more notable for shock than for substance. (Charts and tabular material throughout)

Pub Date: June 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-684-19592-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1993

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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