policy is the best policy

I said I’d start blogging soon, but soon can mean a lot of things; in this case it meant “within a month.” In any case, I haven’t had time for much blog stuff lately and am behind on all my blog reading. But I wanted to comment on this post, and since it’s so far down the page (down multiple pages, in fact) I figured I’d respond here on this content-starved blog.

Eric writes

Broadly speaking, free trade is a phenomenon of whose long-term benefits I am persuaded, while I am concerned about its short-term downside. These are cautiously held convictions, but I hold them.

I am also persuaded that it sounds arrogant and, well, churlish when proponents of free trade say things like this:

and then he quotes some people wondering whether there is a moral obligation to compensate those who lose their jobs to free trade policies. Not all of them say “no”, but one does outright, and seems offended that one would even ask.

All of this leaves me wondering why the question of free trade gets to be in the “policy question” category in the first place, while the question of compensation – or, to put it more generally, the question of whether to provide some kind of support for the unemployed – is in the “moral question” category. Is there a moral mandate for free trade? Do the voters owe the country free trade policies (which they can give by voting for those who will vote for and implement such policies)? The answers could be yes, but are those questions often asked?

Meanwhile, I am persuaded that though the moral questions are not unimportant, it should be possible to discuss the compensation question as a policy matter, as Eric does towards the end of his post:

Finally, we might consider that historically, globalization (of which free trade is one aspect) has caused all manner of political problems that might, as a practical matter, be avoided with the judicious use of policy. I do not see that calling the un- or under-employed — who are assuredly among the under-insured and the generally poorly treated — “churlish” represents the best policy path to ensure that we all benefit from open markets.