Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things


How the Left Should Think About Trade

As the Democratic primaries start to heat up, it’s become clear that Bernie Sanders wants to hit Joe Biden hard on trade:

When people take a look at my record versus Vice-President Biden’s record, I helped lead the fight against NAFTA–he voted for NAFTA. I helped lead the fight against permanent normal trade relations with China–he voted for it. I strongly opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership–he supported it.

Since 2016, American politics has focused quite heavily on immigration. It’s a much more visible issue than trade. Immigrants and refugees are physical people you can see, or even interview. The border is a place you can go, a wall is a physical thing that either gets built or it doesn’t. Some of us are friends of immigrants, some of us are immigrants, and all of us are descended from immigrants. Trade is different. The effects of trade are hard to see and hard to measure. You can see stuff in your local big box store stamped with “Made in China”, but otherwise trade doesn’t make itself obvious to you unless you’re one of the people who loses a job to outsourcing. So the mainstream press doesn’t write about trade very much, unless it’s implying that President Trump is going to visit unspeakable horrors on us through a trade war with China. Even the left press is typically quiet about it. This is a shame, because trade has much larger impacts on ordinary American workers than immigration does.

You can see the rest of this one over at Current Affairs:

Why We Have Borders

When I was in undergrad, I was for open borders. The people in the postcolonial states have been badly screwed over for ages. The western states did this to them–why not let postcolonial peoples get access to western job markets, western public services, and yes, even the western welfare state? They’re human beings, just like us. The purpose of borders is to determine who has access to the juicy western stuff and who doesn’t. Why should anyone be denied access to that stuff? It’s patently unfair. The global economy is a system. The rich countries have gotten rich off the backs of the poor countries–our achievements are their achievements too. Why can’t they share in the spoils?

More recently, I wrote a piece for Current Affairs about the value of political unions. In this piece, I argued that we couldn’t economically integrate territories–permitting capital and people to move freely within them–without politically integrating those territories. Political integration is hard–people in rich countries don’t want to have to redistribute resources to people in poor countries, and they don’t want people from poor countries to get a say in decisionmaking. It’s much easier to get people to support free trade and free movement than it is to get people to support creating and expanding federal states. I reluctantly concluded that we can’t open our borders economically until we’re ready to open them politically. Free movement and free trade with Mexico requires political union with Mexico, and until Americans are willing to do the latter the former will cause trouble.

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