Free Trade Reimagined: The World Division of Labor and the Method of Economics
Roberto Mangabeira Unger
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Free Trade Reimagined begins with a sustained criticism of the heart of the emerging world economy, the theory and practice of free trade. Roberto Mangabeira Unger does not, however, defend protectionism against free trade. Instead, he attacks and revises the terms on which the traditional debate between free traders and protectionists has been joined.
Unger's intervention in this major contemporary debate serves as a point of departure for a proposal to rethink the basic ideas with which we explain economic activity. He suggests, by example as well as by theory, a way of understanding contemporary economies that is both more realistic and more revealing of hidden possibilities for transformation than are the established forms of economics.
One message of the book is that we need not choose between accepting and rejecting globalization; we can have a different globalization. Traditional free trade doctrine rests on shaky empirical and theoretical ground. Unger takes a new approach to show when international trade is likely to be useful or harmful to the socially inclusive economic growth that every nation wants. Another message is that the movement of people and ideas is more important than the movement of things and money, and that freedom to change the institutions defining a market economy is just as important as freedom to exchange goods on the basis of those institutions.
Free Trade Reimagined ranges broadly within and outside economics. Presenting technical issues in plain language, it appeals to the general reader. It puts a disciplined imagination in the service of rebellion against the dictatorship of no alternatives that characterizes life and thought today.
the possession of these capabilities was central to Ricardo’s analysis of comparative advantage. It was, however, disregarded by much of the subsequent theory of international trade, including the influential Heckscher-Ohlin model, which assumed universal access to the same pool of technologies of production.) The decisive issue, and the one addressed by the argument from indeterminacy, is not how the relative scarcities of the factors play out in different product and export profiles, as much
Relations among people appear, as Karl Marx argued in his criticism of political economy and of its “fetishism of commodities,” as if they were relations of people to things. We are not condemned to naturalize social facts, or to acquiesce in an organization of society and culture that enables them to wear the deceptive halo of naturalness and necessity. Our most powerful material, social, and spiritual interests are engaged in a reorganization of society and culture that strengthens our power
the invitation to a slow, obedient ascent up the rungs of a predictable ladder of economic evolution. Imagine that the favored form of the division of labor, having ceased to be Adam Smith’s pin factory, with its stark hierarchies and rigid specializations, increasingly became one in which the contrasts among all specialized roles as well as between roles of supervision and of execution weakened in the interest of permanent innovation. Imagine that this shift touched ever broader parts of each
have worked out such implications, going far beyond the boundaries of trade theory, without confronting the assumptions and equivocations of the twin evils arguments. They failed to force such a confrontation. As a result, strategic trade theory repeated, in its own way and on its own scale, the downward trajectory of the development theory of the mid-twentieth century: by failing to exploit the subversive theoretical significance of its own concerns and tenets, it reduced itself to the condition
joined. One notion is that of large numbers of economic agents, able to act on their own initiative and for their own account. This formulation emphasizes the multiplicity of independent economic agents. The other notion is that of the absoluteness of the power—absolute in scope and in time—that the owner enjoys over the resources under his command. Not only are the two sides of this idea not necessarily conjoined, they may be inversely related in social and economic fact. The unified property