The benefits of free trade and NAFTA far outweigh the costs
None of the economists surveyed disagreed that the gains to freer trade are much larger than any costs. And only two economists even said that the answer is uncertain. In a space for additional comments, MIT's Richard Schmalensee declared "If that's not right, almost all of economics is wrong".
Economists have emphasized the benefits of free trade for a long time, reflecting the field's belief in the importance of specialization, comparative advantage, and gains from trade. Indeed, these results are similar to other surveys that show economists strongly supporting free trade.
So why do pundits and voters lag economists in supporting free trade? In his excellent book The Myth of the Rational Voter, Bryan Caplan provides evidence that people suffer from a handful of systematic biases that influence their beliefs, and three of these can help explain why voters are skeptical of trade: anti-market bias, anti-foreign bias, and pessimism bias.
Paul Krugman provides three reasons why intellectuals in particular resist the theory of comparative advantage that underpins free trade: 1) opposition to free trade is intellectually fashionable, 2) comparative advantage is hard to understand, and 3) they are averse to a fundamentally mathematical understanding of the world.
As is reflected in the comments by some of the panelists trade will create winners and losers, which may also explain some opposition to trade. But economists on the left and the right still struggle the understand the level of opposition to trade, and the rejection of the overall gains. Whatever their reasons for resisting, people should follow economists lead and embrace the fact that the gains from freer trade outweigh the costs.
Government policies don't explain high gas prices
Individual's beliefs about the extent to which the U.S. government should be blamed for high gas prices seems to have a strangely strong correlation with whether they like whoever happens to be in charge at the time. Economists on the other hand strongly reject the idea that the government has much affect on these prices. None of the surveyed economists disagreed with the following statement:
"Changes in U.S. gasoline prices over the past 10 years have predominantly been due to market factors rather than U.S. federal economic or energy policies."
So why do people blame politicians when gas prices rise? Supply and demand, of course. Ideological pundits and politicians are happy to supply arguments blaming incumbent politicians, and ideological individuals are eager to believe them. People should set their ideologies aside and accept the sometimes inconvenient fact that market forces, not politicians, have been the primary driver of gas prices over the past 10 years.
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