Alan Blinder, Rabble Rouser?

ALAN BLINDER, RABBLE ROUSER?….I’m perplexed. Really. Today in the Washington Post, economist Alan Blinder writes:

I’m a free trader down to my toes. Always have been. Yet lately, I’m being treated as a heretic by many of my fellow economists. Why? Because I have stuck my neck out and predicted that the offshoring of service jobs from rich countries such as the United States to poor countries such as India may pose major problems for tens of millions of American workers over the coming decades.

For this he’s being treated like a heretic? Let’s read on:

[The forces of globalization] don’t look so benign from the viewpoint of an American computer programmer or accountant. They’ve done what they were told to do: They went to college and prepared for well-paid careers with bountiful employment opportunities. But now their bosses are eyeing legions of well-qualified, English-speaking programmers and accountants in India, for example, who will happily work for a fraction of what Americans earn. Such prospective competition puts a damper on wage increases. And if the jobs do move offshore, displaced American workers may lose not only their jobs but also their pensions and health insurance. These people can be forgiven if they have doubts about the virtues of globalization.

….It’s also going to be large. How large? In some recent research, I estimated that 30 million to 40 million U.S. jobs are potentially offshorable. These include scientists, mathematicians and editors on the high end and telephone operators, clerks and typists on the low end. Obviously, not all of these jobs are going to India, China or elsewhere. But many will.

….That is why I am going public with my concerns now. If we economists stubbornly insist on chanting “Free trade is good for you” to people who know that it is not, we will quickly become irrelevant to the public debate. Compared with that, a little apostasy should be welcome.

I don’t get it. What exactly is Blinder’s “apostasy”? That offshoring hurts the workers whose jobs are offshored? That, as he recommends elsewhere in the piece, we shouldn’t consider trade protection as a way of stopping offshoring, but we should consider better unemployment benefits and a stronger commitment to retraining? Or that we need to “rethink our education system so that it turns out more people who are trained for the jobs that will remain in the United States”?

I’m squinting to detect any apostasy here, but I just can’t find it. In fact, this sounds like very standard mainstream liberal economic advice. Is Blinder seriously suggesting that it’s apostasy in the economics profession merely to point out that some people will be hurt by offshoring, and that we ought to think about helping them? That’s hard to believe.

But he’s a famous economist and I’m not. What’s more, he’s written about this before and obviously knows what kind of reaction he got. So: Is he right that merely bringing up this subject prevents you from being invited to whatever passes for A-list cocktail parties among economists? The mind reels.

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