Dani Rodrik writes:
So the "us" and "them" characterization that Tyler attributes to irrational nativism perhaps has more to do with the absence of a common set of international rules on labor standards, environment, consumer safety, and so on.
(There is much more at the link.) I was surprised to read this. In the 1980s people were very hostile to Japan and Japanese imports, even though Japan at the time was quite wealthy and had relatively high standards in these areas. I also receive a fair number of emails — some of them of the hate variety — by people who are suspicious of the rise of China. I believe it is Chinese success which bothers them even though they sometimes come up with ancillary stories about unfairnesss. These people are not less upset when other countries use capital rather than labor or when foreign production does not create much pollution.
Most of all, many people in poorer countries object to having to compete with America, with McDonald’s, with Hollywood, and so on. Those objections are usually more strenuous than the complaints of Americans about a poorer China and of course the poorer countries tend to be more protectionist, in part for this reason. That’s where feelings of unfairness are truly strong. There’s nothing special about the "regulatory arbitrage" unfairness story and in fact it is one of the weaker feelings of unfairness out there. In reality the entire past of the world is unfair but cosmopolitanites can look past that to appreciate the gains from ongoing trade.
Rodrik himself seems to object to when Americans trade with countries in which first world labor standards are violated. But doesn’t such trade raise wages in these countries and also give a long-run boost to labor standards? And where does the net unfairness lie? Haven’t the Western powers — if only through imperialism — usually treated these countries much worse than vice versa? Didn’t we steal Panama from Colombia for instance and take away a huge chunk of Mexico? (Were Europeans so nice to the Ottoman Empire?) Maybe the American worker ought to feel those folks deserve a bit of regulatory arbitrage (and that’s not what most of the trade is based upon) in return. But it is striking how infrequently such a fairness calculus — whether correct or not — is even considered. That again is because most people engage in "in group, out group" thinking.
The bottom line is that most people support their countries to a highly irrational degree in most international questions or disputes. That’s just obvious — watch the World Cup — and yes Jonathan Swift understood that too.