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Free Trade Reimagined

Free Trade Reimagined: The World Division of Labor and the Method of Economics

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Free Trade Reimagined
    Book Description:

    Free Trade Reimaginedbegins 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 Reimaginedranges 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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2785-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. Themes and Scope of this Book
    (pp. 1-6)

    The idea of free trade combines theoretical interest with practical significance. It takes us into the heart of economic theory and into the midst of contemporary debates about the world economy. It has become much more than a slogan to conjure with; it has turned into a promise or a menace, a nearly self-evident truth or a source of bafflement, the pride of the hardest of the hard social sciences and the bugbear of those who resist its conclusions.

    If countries specialize in what they produce, the whole world can reap the benefits. It is a simple message of enormous...

  4. Chapter 1 Troubles: The Enigmas of Free Trade
    (pp. 7-24)

    I begin by enumerating some familiar problems in the doctrine of free trade conducted on the basis of specialized lines of production within an international division of labor, particularly when such national specializations are motivated by comparative advantage.* These problems—and the solutions that have been proposed for them—have not been thought to discredit either the central insight of the doctrine or its programmatic consequence, the beneficence of free trade. Indeed, they do not. They nevertheless pose a challenge that contemporary thinking about trade and free trade has yet adequately to meet. How, why, and with what result the...

  5. Chapter 2 Troubles: The Incompleteness of Comparative Advantage
    (pp. 25-76)

    We must go further into the core of the beliefs that have informed and guided the doctrine of free trade if we are to find a point of departure for more reliable insight. This task provides an opportunity to reconsider, through an analysis of this doctrine, both our ideas about the world division of labor and our assumptions about the method of economics. To radicalize the organized anarchy and the restless experimentalism that have played so large a part in the ideal of market economy, rendered worldwide through free trade—at the cost of overturning the institutional and conceptual obstacles...

  6. Chapter 3 Ideas
    (pp. 77-109)

    To find an intellectual direction that can illuminate these historical experiences and clarify these conceptual problems, we must think beyond the boundaries of ideas that address free trade alone. We cannot do justice to the debate about free trade and protection from within the categories in which this debate has traditionally been framed.

    In this chapter I offer six ideas as starting points for a way of thinking, not just about international trade but also about economic activity in general—building blocks for a different approach. Without a struggle to develop such an approach, my explanatory accounts and programmatic proposals...

  7. Chapter 4 Theses
    (pp. 110-165)

    The criticisms and ideas explored in the preceding pages animate three theoretical conjectures. These three propositions supply a point of departure for another way of thinking about free trade. I present them informally as empirical speculations, neither conclusively validated by fact nor bereft of support in historical experience. Like any other proposal of an approach to understanding complex phenomena, they should be judged by their theoretical fecundity as well as by their success in illuminating the subject immediately at hand. All three theses have implications for the practice of economic analysis well beyond the scope of the theory of international...

  8. Chapter 5 Proposals
    (pp. 166-212)

    The three theses about free trade proposed in the previous chapter have clear implications for the conduct of national policy. Their meaning for the organization of a world trading system, however, may seem far less evident. In fact, the first of the three, the thesis of relative advantage, may at first appear to be incompatible with any coherent trading regime designed on a worldwide scale. For it suggests that the case for moving toward free or freer trade may depend on the level of development of each trading partner in comparison to the level of the others. Relative backwardness can...

  9. The Troubles of Free Trade and the Possibilities of Economics
    (pp. 213-222)

    This book may be misread as a polemic against free trade. It is not. Its immediate concern is to propose a change in how we understand the benefits and dangers of trade among countries. The understanding I put forward results in a view of how to build an open world economy without harming some of our most important material and moral interests. If my proximate goal here is to reimagine free trade, my ulterior motive is to argue for a change in the way we think about markets, the division of labor, and the relation of production and exchange to...

  10. Name Index
    (pp. 223-224)
  11. Subject Index
    (pp. 225-229)