17 November 2016

Ideologues and vested interests impede good policymaking

A letter-writer reacts to the suggestion by the Economist that poor American consumers gain more from cheap imports than they would if imports were restricted and America produced the same goods:
Being able to buy a Chinese-made 50-inch TV when you work by flipping hamburgers for the minimum wage may be more efficient than working in a factory on wages where you can only afford the 30-inch American-made model. But Donald Trump’s voters weighed up factors that many economists and your newspaper often downplay: the marginal utility of consumer goods in a rich society, the distribution of wealth and a sense of self-worth. The medium through which they channelled their anxiety may be flawed, but their message is clear. Trump's triumph, Prof Diomidis Spinellis, the 'Economist' dated 19 November
Exactly so; countries as a whole benefit from free trade in that the benefits to the economy more than offset the losses, even if the losers - those whose jobs become obsolete - are fully compensated. The problem is that most of the gains are going to the wealthy, and the losers aren't being compensated.

One of the great advantages of the Social Policy Bond approach is clarity about ends and means. Free trade isn't an end in itself: it's a means to an end: the improved well-being of society. A bond regime targeting poverty or income levels would ensure adequate compensation to the losers from free trade (which could take the form of subsidies to struggling companies or laid-off individuals, or enhanced re-training opportunities). Or it could restrict trade, perhaps temporarily, if that were to better meet society's long-term income goal. Such measures would be heresy to the free trade ideologues, but in a bond regime it is outcomes that matter, not ideology.

We see similarly non-outcome driven approaches in other policy areas, where ideology or vested interests get in the way of rational, welfare-enhancing policies. Healthcare in the US is one example, where the interests of insurance companies and blind resistance to anything that could be called 'socialist' do so much to blight the security of even middle-class Americans.

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