Oren Cass on a journey to the center of the neoliberal dogma.

In the fall of 2001, as the World Trade Organization prepared to welcome China, I was completing my introductory college economics course. I had mastered the basics of supply and demand, opportunity cost, indifference curves, and comparative advantage. A few days before China’s formal accession, I composed my first policy memo on the merits of free trade.

I still have the paper, written in the confident and unquestioning tone that my freshman self thought appropriate for a practitioner of the economic sciences, though with hindsight it seems more the tone of a recent convert to a fundamentalist sect, which I suppose I was. “There is no question,” I began, “that free international trade increases a society’s economic surplus.”

I dismissed concern for “a short-term loss in jobs” because “those labor resources can be quickly shifted to the production of goods to be consumed domestically (total domestic surplus has increased), or to goods that can be exported to now-wealthier trading partners.” I averred that, “damage to a given industry is more than compensated for by advancements elsewhere.” I even provided a parenthetical citation: “(Krugman).”

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