Thursday, March 26, 2009

Smart people acting dumb

Several weeks ago I saw that a left-wing group released a list of prominent economists who support the Employee Free Choice Act. I was genuinely surprised at some of the names on that list, including Jagdish Bhagwati who is a big free trade proponent. Well, via Greg Mankiw I see that Bhagwati has explained his support for the act, which according to Mankiw goes something like this:
As I understand it, his argument is from the standpoint of the second best. Jagdish does not really like the bill itself ("And it is, indeed, hard to defend the denial of an automatic secret ballot"). But he thinks that strengthening unions will raise the wages of some workers and thereby diminish the populist push for trade restrictions, which he views as the more pernicious threat.
Mankiw then adds:
An alternative view is that unions are among the most anti-trade institutions out there, so strengthening them will advance the push for trade restrictions.
No kidding. Is it even remotely plausible that after securing passage of the EFCA unions will suddenly drop their opposition to free trade? Either Bhagwati is too clever by half or terribly naive. It's a great example of how impressive credentials and intelligence don't always add up to smart policy.

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