More On \"Rational\"

One of my friends is very typical of a lot of people I know. Though generally ambitious and smart, he thinks free trade is a Bad Thing. He sees the loss of jobs domestically from foreign workers while companies keep making money. He believes free trade hurts Americans.

For those of you who believe that free trade is a Good Thing -

Is he being irrational?

Related post: As if reading my mind Share this

Depends on your definition

Depends on your definition of rational.

Yes. He is assuming that a

Yes. He is assuming that a loss of jobs makes us worse off in the end without anything beyond the most cursory logical reasoning.

There is, perhaps, a

There is, perhaps, a difference between being irrational and being insufficiently thoughtful. Perhaps your friend has never been presented with good arguments in favor of free trade. They are not obvious; the theory of comparative advantage is famously counter-intuitive.

On the other hand, if your friend has seen those arguments and has discussed them with someone who can explain them clearly (which I presume he has, since he's your friend) and yet he persists in believing that free trade hurts Americans, I think you could say he is being irrational.

Rational, but uninformed.

Rational, but uninformed.

Well, if he personally

Well, if he personally suffered a loss because of competition from overseas, you could see his point. But he would have to deal with all the benefits that he received from that competition as well, such as lower prices.

Or perhaps his job was one that existed only because of favorable advantages in America, and therefore he had a job only BECAUSE of free trade.

This is the ultimate problem with selling free trade. The benefits are distributed and the negatives specific and especially painful. A person will talk long and hard about losing a job, but a million people aren't going to say anything if their shirts are 10$ cheaper.

As Stalin would say: "Take one man's job, and it's a tragedy. Save a million on shirts and it's just a statistic." Or something like that.

While I don't agree with the

While I don't agree with the sentiment as it applies to trade issues, I don't agree that valuing citizens of your own nation above citizens of other nations necessarily makes you a nationalist biggot.

This is a classic Bastiat

This is a classic Bastiat proposition of that which is seen and that which is not seen. Advise your friend to read Bastiat or Hazlitt. He's not being irrational, he is rational within the scope of what he is seeing and addressing.

Again, I missed the point.

Again, I missed the point. Chris is right.

If the only information you have is:

1. Free trade causes some Americans to lose their jobs

Then yes, you are rational to oppose free trade.

Free trade would be good if

Free trade would be good if that's what we had. What we have is managed trade and, in the real world, the situation is complex.

Let's say there's a Country A with whom we trade. We have no tariffs or other barriers to trade with Country A. Country A has substantial barriers of various different kinds to our goods and ignores intellectual property issues freely pirating anything that comes their way. That will result in market distortions and the more that we do business with Country A, the more they'll be dictating our domestic economic policy.

There are multiple

There are multiple definitions of "rational". I can believe that he strives to connect his ideas consciously and purposefully to plan the attainment of ends he seeks. I don't think he's correctly done research and ignored emotional argument to come to a correct objective conclusion. I seriously doubt that he's the ratio of two integers.

My question to you is: why do you ask if he's rational? Are you just trying to decide if it's worth discussing with him? I don't think you've provided enough information to answer that - he could have interesting and/or valid points even if his process for concluding an opinion is irrational. He could be perfectly rational, but have little knowledge or interest, so discussion is pointless.

Do you mean to ask "is he correct"? Or even "could this be correct for him, and not for me?" Again, we'd need more data about his and your preferences and goals, and reasoning of how the fairly nebulous term "free trade" affects them.

Personally, I think noncoercive trade benefits all participants. I also think there are very few transactions which do not involve some degree of coercive behavior, making it VERY hard to generalize from theory to real-world policies.

Friedman would've said :

Friedman would've said :

... we could assume a consistent and principled stance. We could say to the rest of the world : We believe in freedom and intend to practice it. No one can force you to be free. That is your business. But we can offer you full co-operation on equal terms to all. Our market is open to you. Sell here what you can and wish to. Use the proceeds to buy what you wish. In this way co-operation among individuals can be worldwide yet free.

I was going to point on the "ce qu'on voit et ce qu'on ne voit pas" (Bastiat) but I see someone beat me to the punch. Now look, I understand the problems you have with property rights and presumably piracy and whatnot, but the bottom line is, i believe that without making the next step forward in terms of human rights, China, or whatever nation, will NEVER make the next step, and will continue only to produce, primarily crap that we buy because we have enough money and can afford to buy it. Like plastic dolls and shit. So let them wallow in their economically primordial crapulence, it still makes us better off.

Okay, I skimmed the

Okay, I skimmed the comments, so maybe someone said this already, but:

No, he's not irrational. He's rationally ignorant. What benefit would he get from becoming informed on this particular issue? The ability to cast a better-informed vote? Please -- we all know the marginal impact of a single vote is essentially zero. Your friend has no incentive to learn about the real effects of free trade, because he has (I presume) no power to set trade policy anyway.

Rational or irrational

Rational or irrational he’s certainly badly educated.

While I don’t agree with

While I don’t agree with the sentiment as it applies to trade issues, I don’t agree that valuing citizens of your own nation above citizens of other nations necessarily makes you a nationalist biggot.

Perhaps I wouldn't use the phrase "nationalist bigot", but there is still something disturbing about blind patriotism; it's collectivist, like racism or xenophobia, and it sometimes leads people to do horrible things (like, for example, nazi soldiers in the 1930s fighting for Hitler). Put another way, it's not necessarily bad to prefer one group's prosperity to another, but the reasons for that preference seem to influence whether it is good or bad.

I actually consider trade to

I actually consider trade to be good but I'm kinda down on capitalism. So I'm opposed to Free Trade in the current context.

Define irrational. If he

Define irrational.

If he believes that free trade only hurts Americans, he has a bit of explaining to do.

It seems to me that many of

It seems to me that many of you are equating 'rational' with true. But that's just not at all what the term means. There are issue about which it may well be reasonable to disagree.

Charles Strawson distinguishes between two different types of disagreement: disagreement in attitue and disagreement in belief. Beliefs are related to more-or-less factual questions. Attitudes have to do with the various positions that we take with respect to those factual questions. So, for example, I might completely agree that Brian's college football rankings accurately reflect the relative merits of each time. Thus we would agree in our belief that, say, Virginia is the 25th best time in the country, but could well disagree in our attitude about that fact. As a UVA grad, I think it a good thing that they are ranked that high. A VT alum, Brian might well be disappointed that they are ranked as they are. Would anyone say that one of us is rational while the other isn't? (And no snide comments from you Hokies here. I have a degree from VT also.)

So back to the main question, I don't see any inherent reason to think that Jonathan's friend is irrational. He might be, but there is nothing here to show that for certain. Indeed, it may be well that he is fully aware of all of the arguments for free trade, completely understands them, and still thinks free trade is a bad thing. Several of you seem to assume that the issue of whether free trade is a good thing is a simple empirical question that requires only that I examine certain bits of evidence. If that really were the case, then certainly it would be true that to reject such evidence would be irrational. But that's not really the whole story.

When one asks whether free trade is a _good_ thing, one is asking a _normative_ question. So the answer to the question will depend on two factors. One would be the actual consequences of free trade. Those are purely empirical, and it would thus be irrational for one of us or the other to deny those empirical truths. But the other factor is that we have to ask what it is that makes something good. If we disagree on that, then even if we agree on all of the consequences of free trade, we might still disagree about whether it's a good thing. We are both being perfectly rational in that case, but we are reaching our conclusions from different premises. Our different premises are not empirical, but normative. It may well be that one of us is correct about our normative premises and the other wrong, but it's not exactly easy to say which of us that would be. There are very good reasons for holding very different normative principles.

Blindly asserting that all

Blindly asserting that all people are deserving of equal consideration is equally collectivist. It's natural to be more concerned about those closer to you: our families are more important to us than our friends, our friends are more important than our community, our community is more important than our nation, and ultimately our nation is more important to us than the world at large.

Now should that mean blind patriotism? No. As I said, I'm in favor in free trade. But it shouldn't be suprising that people who live in the US place more concern on US employment thant global employment. This doesn't make them nationalist bigots.

Brain Moore wrote: If the

Brain Moore wrote:

If the only information you have is:

1. Free trade causes some Americans to lose their jobs

Then yes, you are rational to oppose free trade.

The information mentioned in the post includes:

2. Non-U.S. workers gain jobs.
3. Firms continue to make money.

So yes, it is rational to oppose free trade if you're a nationalist bigot or an anti-capitalist. Probably helps if you're both.

"Free trade would be good if

"Free trade would be good if that’s what we had." - Dave

I agree with this. Where is the free trade?

He is missing the broader picture of what is happening and embracing long standing fallacies. If only government could restrict companies from sending jobs overseas. Hardworking Americans would be making the big bucks sewing shirts, manning call centers, or updating database code.

I've had conversations with many individuals that feel free trade will only bring about evil profit driven corporations of doom. They usually believe that government simply needs to be managed by smarter individuals that create positive public policy. Free markets will only make us all slaves to the ultra powerful mega corporations and benevolent government is the final answer. Universal health care, fantastic educations, lucrative jobs and state support until we die at 125 is our birthright...

U.S. Labor Is in Retreat as

U.S. Labor Is in Retreat as Global Forces Squeeze Pay and Benefits
(L.A. Time Oct. 18, 2005 front page headline)
Critics say that Delphi employees, who earn an average of $27 an hour in addition to generous medical and retirement benefits, make too much to allow the company to compete. By contrast, workers at Delphi's profitable China operations earn about $3 an hour.
"As a world-class employer," the company proclaims on its website, "Delphi offers its full-time employees world-class benefits." In recent days, that proud ...

What your friend probably was objecting to was "globalization" and all that entails. Nobody who buys Japanese cars, Swiss chocolate, or Gucci handbags can reasonably say they're opposed to "free trade". The L.A. Times headline speaks to the sinking standard of living for American workers as a result of ominous "global forces". Your friend probably has a rational sense of foreboding about the economic future of this country. I wouldn't question his ability to make rational judgments, just his faulty terminology.

Yes your friend is being

Yes your friend is being irrational. He's refusing to adapt to the reality around him, and wants to adapt reality to his view of it. The problem is that his view of reality does not view every man as a trader. That's the principle free trade is founded on.

His view can never match reality, and is doomed like all fantasies. If he were rational, then the proper action would be to compete with the foreigners in a field that he can compete with them in. Not to create artificial barriers to level the playing field just because he wants to sew shirts for a living.

In due course those barriers will either be ignored or repealed. So get used to it now, because an American sewing shirts probably never got rich in the days of yore nor in the future.

Re: If the only information

Re: If the only information you have is:

1. Free trade causes some Americans to lose their jobs

Then yes, you are rational to oppose free trade.

Is it also rational to conclude that one has enough information to make a logical deduction after receiving just 1 piece of information?