Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Huge New Report Further Crushes Protectionist Myths about Trade, Jobs & Outsourcing

The OECD recently concluded a giant new report on the effects of open markets on employment, and the consensus conclusion couldn't be any clearer: free trade is awesome.  In the process of coming to that (admittedly broad and obvious) conclusion, the authors of the myriad studies included in the final OECD Report also debunk a whole host of protectionist myths still floating around out there about imports, jobs and outsourcing (President Obama, please take note).  Here's the press release announcing the new Report (emphasis mine):
Governments that foster open markets and resist protectionism have the best chance of stimulating inclusive economic growth and creating high-value jobs, according to a new study from 10 international organisations presented in Paris.

Policy Priorities for International Trade and Jobs, launched by OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria during the annual OECD Forum, shows that protectionist and discriminatory trade measures do not protect or preserve jobs. On the contrary, closing markets is actually more likely to stifle growth and put additional pressure on labour markets.

The report, a product of the International Collaborative Initiative on Trade and Employment (ICITE)*, analyses the complex interactions between globalisation, trade and labour markets. Drawing on numerous studies covering different parts of the globe and countries at very different levels of development, the report highlights the powerful role trade can play in driving growth and improving employment.
Of the 14 main studies undertaken since 2000 reviewed in the report, all 14 have concluded that trade plays an independent and positive role in raising incomes.
Through its impact on productivity, trade also raises average wages. Over the 1970-2000 period, manufacturing workers in open economies benefitted from pay rates that were between 3 and 9 times greater than those in closed economies, depending on the region. In Chile, workers in the most open sectors earned on average 25% more in 2008 than those in low-openness sectors.

Fears of the impact of offshoring may be exaggerated. Studies for the United Kingdom, United States, Germany and Italy demonstrate that off-shoring of intermediate goods has either no impact or, if any, a positive effect on both employment and wages.

The report also shows, however, that openness to trade is not enough. Complementary policies – such as sound macroeconomic policies, a positive investment climate, flexible labour markets and adequate social safety nets – are needed to realise the full benefits of trade....

The ICITE report debunks the principal argument against freeing up trade – the supposed impact of imports on jobs. The report says that there is no systematic link between imports and unemployment. Instead, evidence shows that in country after country, both exports and imports push productivity growth upward while helping create better skilled and higher paying jobs.
Offshoring and outsourcing by developed countries – two commonly-cited negative aspects of globalisation – often complement, rather than replace domestic jobs, while creating new, higher-wage opportunities in developing countries, according to the report.
There is enough in this report to keep even the nerdiest of trade nerds busy for a long while.  I especially like the part about the necessity of "complementary policies" to realize the full benefits of free trade.  That's something I've been arguing here for a while now - open markets are awesome, but their benefits are seriously undermined unless they're accompanied by sound fiscal policies (especially tax policies), a streamlined, predictable regulatory environment and a dynamic labor market.  Without these things, all the trade in the world won't fix what ails the US and other struggling economies.

But all the trade stuff's important too, particularly during yet-another-election-season featuring scores of US politicians spewing populist nonsense about the allegedly horrible effects of imports and outsourcing on American jobs.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, isn't it about time we stopped listening to these people?

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