Filling Extemp Files With Free Trade Dogma

Much of my education came on the high school speech team, competing in the event of Extemporaneous Speaking.

Saturday mornings I would join the rest of the team on the bus at an ungodly hour for the ride to a tournament at high schools around the state. Some team members arrived with little three ring binders, props to be used in events like Verse Interpretation where the conceit involved "reading" poems out loud.Those of us who competed in Extemp didn't have little binders. We showed up dragging massive litigation cases containing "our files": manilla folders filled with clippings from newspapers and magazines covering every aspect of current events. At the tournaments, we drew a question out of a hat and then had 45 minutes (in Illlinois) to construct and memorize a speech that cited at least four different sources.

The source of choice was, of course, The Economist. In the late 80s/early 90s, The Economist was rife with articles about international trade as the United States considered NAFTA and Europe debated the integration of the European Economic Community into the EU and even further into the Eurozone. The Economist made one thing perfectly clear: free trade is always good. Breaking down trade barriers leads to economic growth, lower prices for consumers, and new, better paying positions to replace every job that is lost.

An recent article in the NYT explains how this was supposed to work, and examines why it does not seem to be playing out that way:

In the idealized world of perfect markets, high profits quickly faded away as new entrants joined the fray. In the world we actually live in, large companies take advantage of economies of scale and maneuver strategically to buffer themselves from price competition. As a result, they capture a large share of the gains to trade that would otherwise be passed on to consumers.