Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Comment At "Thinking Taiwan" Article On TPP Framing

As below, link to the "Thinking Taiwan" article by Timothy Rich and Lucas Knight here.


Framing is indeed important, and is often more subtle than the statements featured in the study the authors describe. Two examples:

1) The "negative disproportionate impact" which international trade has on the poor is a result that only comes into focus as a matter of very particular framing. Relatively poor people in rich countries lose their jobs to foreign competition (often from poorer countries). At the same time, poor people in poor countries often gain jobs and much needed income from this increased trade. So the impact of trade on "the poor" is a matter of framing: which poor are we talking about?

Granted, the context for this study is that of domestic politics where the interests of foreign workers are assumed to be irrelevant. But there is a further point about framing to be made, which is that it is also a question of time. Over the short term, fewer government restrictions allow the destruction of certain industries and the jobs that go with them. But historically that has also lead to the creation of new products and services and a richer economy. This is made clear not only by such things as smart phones, cheap coffee and nike trainers, but by things like the reduction in numbers of death by contagious diseases which was made possible by the expensive medical research which in turn comes from having a large, thriving economy. So yes, it really is a matter of framing.

"However, that support for the TPP declined when presented a balanced account of the pros and cons suggests at the very least that proponents must exert greater efforts to assuage worries about the negative ramifications of greater trade liberalization."

That is made rather difficult by two things. The first is that the benefits of further international trade for people in already rich countries are likely to be much more marginal when compared to the benefits for people in poor countries. This is because even the relatively poor in rich countries already enjoy a comparatively high material standard of living. Really obvious improvements aren't likely to arrive until the next significant technological breakthrough (e.g. cheap ultra-capacitors for storing electricity generated by renewable technologies). The second difficulty is that it is hard to assuage people's worries about greater trade when both the media and the State education establishment are biased against it, resulting in proponents of greater trade liberalization being either ignored or effectively "no platformed".

2) The TPP is referred to as a "free trade agreement", when in actual fact it is an agreement to reduce some trade restrictions, not an agreement to eliminate all of them altogether. It would be more accurate to refer to the TPP as a "trade growth agreement", or even just a "trade agreement". By referring to it as "free trade", opponents confuse the reduction of trade barriers with the absence of trade barriers. If "free trade" is then framed into meaning a government managed reduction in trade barriers, it is easier to elide the alternative from the discussion...

...Which is that, if the aim is national prosperity, then trade negotiations are unnecessary. The government could simply declare unilateral free trade and be done with it.


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