Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Understanding Trade Deficits, Imports and Exports

Go read Why we trade by Russell Roberts, professor of economics at George Mason University and a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is the host of the weekly podcast EconTalk at EconTalk.org and the author of The Choice: A Fable of Free Trade and Protectionism

The logic of “exports, good—imports, bad” seems straightforward at first—after all, when a factory closes because of foreign competition, there seem to be fewer jobs than there otherwise would be. Don’t imports cause factories to close? Don’t exports build factories?

But is the logic really so clear? As a thought experiment, take what would seem to be the ideal situation for a mercantilist. Suppose we only export and import nothing. The ultimate trade surplus. So we work and use raw materials and effort and creativity to produce stuff for others without getting anything in return. There’s another name for that. It’s called slavery. How can a country get rich working for others?


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