Cato Journal

Cato Journal

Spring/Summer 2002


Review of "Free Trade Today"
By Dan Griswold



Free Trade Today
Jagdish Bhagwati
Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2002, 128 pp.

None of the usual jokes about economists apply to Jagdish Bhagwati. The Columbia University professor is as personable, charming, and provocative in print as he is in person, and all those attributes shine through in his new book, Free Trade Today.

Bhagwati's latest book is based on three lectures he delivered recently at the Stockholm School of Economics. That is the same venue where he gave another series of lectures on trade in the late 1980s that became the book Protectionism, a minor classic in the bibliography of free trade. This new book, Bhagwati tells us in the preface, is "a sequel to Protectionism, an equally short, accessible, wide-ranging work that brings the case for free trade to the skeptics and the critics today."

In the first section of the book, Bhagwati explains why free trade is still the first best policy despite two centuries of theoretical challenges. Economists have known since the 1840s that a nation can improve its welfare, in theory at least, by deviating from free trade. If a nation has enough weight in international markets, it can (in theory) force down global prices with a tariff, extracting more producer and revenue gain from the rest of the world than it gives up in lost efficiency or consumer welfare. Or it can (again, in theory) nurture "infant industries" behind a tariff wall to reap greater productivity gains later. In more recent years, we discovered "strategic trade policy," the idea that a country could (once again, in theory) benefit by protecting a strategic industry that could then bring home monopoly profits in the global marketplace.

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