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Bad Questions

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"Bad Questions"

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I was trying to look something up about public opinion on trade issues, and particular recent trends in opinion, and saw this paragraph in a Public Agenda survey:

Attitudes have also become more negative about international trade. In previous rounds of the Index, the public showed great uncertainty over the benefits of trade—fully half said they were unsure who benefited more from trade, the United States or other countries, compared with about one-third who thought other countries benefited more. Now roughly as many say other countries benefit more (42 percent) as are unsure (41 percent). Only 14 percent think the United States benefits more from trade.

That’s just a terrible way of looking at the situation. My read of the way the world works is that the United States has a much larger economy than do most countries. Consequently, trade is just a much bigger deal for other countries than it is for the United States. For example, if all US-Canadian trade ceased that would be terrible for us but much worse for the Canadians. Consequently, I’d say that other countries benefit more from trade than the United States does. If the world ever shifts to autarky, that’ll suck for everyone, but it’ll suck less for us than it does for, say, tiny subarctic Iceland.

But that’s not me having a “negative attitude” about international trade. But in Public Agenda’s conception of how trade works, it seems to be a zero-sum activity such that if some other country benefits more from trade than we do, then we’re getting ripped off.

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