Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Review: Russell Roberts’ The Choice: A fable of free-trade and protectionism

I don't really consider this a work of fiction, and neither does the author. It is in a fiction format, but its primary purpose is to make the case against protectionism, and for free markets. Roberts does this beautifully, raising and dismissing almost every argument for protectionism, and doing this with charm, wit, and almost a complete lack of venom.

The story follows the time-traveling journey and conversation of Ed Johnson (a businessman looking for protection form Japanese competition) and his guardian angle David Ricardo (modeled after the little-known economist.) Together they travel to the future, back to the past, and through alternate timelines to demonstrate Robert's point.

Through this journey, Ricardo corrects some critical mistakes in economic theory; such as the `zero-sum theory', misconceptions on the nature of supply and demand, the role and meaning of wages and `real' wages, the mythical "dangers" of a trade deficit, what imports and exports really are, and most of all, dismisses the myth that trade with other countries hurts the American worker overall (which he admits, in a smaller sense, it sometimes does.)

The book takes some leaps of logic, which the author fully admits in the back of the book; such as the town of Star (Ed's hometown) being unchanged in the `protectionist' universe. These little plot devices are not meant to represent reality, but demonstrate more abstract points, in that sense, it is more like a metaphor.

Overall, the book makes one of the strongest cases ageists the practicality of protectionism that I have ever heard. He also fits some talk as to the moral case against it, that it is really an issue of freedom, and no one person has the right to force another in to a certain kind of behavior (A.K.A., buying American products) and that "America" is all about dreams and growth, something not very possible in the protectionist world.

My only complaint would be that I wanted more elaboration on some sections of the `conversation'; such as the `dumping' segment. Robert's makes a good case that dumping is not really practical for anybody, that the `dumper' would have to make up for lost profits from lowering their prices. What I don't understand is....what if a company could cover their lost profits in profits from another product, or section of their company (Such as a department store lowering prices on televisions and allowing the produce-department to cover the loss.) I wish Robert's would have gone in to slightly more detail.

There are several section of the book like this; but I want to make clear is that Robert's never claims that this is the ultimate source for `anti-protectionist' arguments, he even suggests further reading in the back of the book, something all reasonable people should do if they are truly interested in understanding the complexities of economics.

I love Robert's style of writing, his books are not just informative, but entertaining, something very hard to achieve for this subject matter. The book was good enough that I ordered His other book, The Invisible Heart, form Amazon. After seeing what he did to It's a Wonderful life, I can't wait to see what he does for a romance novel.


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