Edited by Ugo Mattei and John D. Haskell
Chapter 6: Free trade and comparative advantage: a study in economic sleight of hand
Policy is the domain in which the theory and the practice of economics clasp hands. It is where economics attempts to prove its reach beyond the domain of dusty theory and old books, and enters boldly and confidently into the actually existing social world of trucking, bartering, interests and politics. It is relevance and perceived success in this real world milieu that grounds economics’ asserted claim to the crown of the social sciences. However, the policy domain has, in the years of and following the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008, been beset by seismic shifts and tumultuous – for some, catastrophic – disintegration of dominant modes of thinking and established structures and arrangements. The conspicuous inability of economiststo predict this carnage – not to mention a sneaking suspicion that many were in fact architects of the policy schemes that encouraged it – has not done much for the stature of the discipline. Depending on whom you speak to, much has changed, much has become chastened, and the prestige of the economic scientist has been significantly tarnished. Notwithstanding the lashing that the discipline of economics has taken during the recent unrest, there remain areas of economic policy prescription that have weathered the storm. In this chapter I would like to focus on one such policy prescription – that of free trade.
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