Fairness in trade I: Obligations from trading and the pauper-labor argument

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 6 (3):355-377 (2007)
Standard economic theory teaches that trade benefits all countries involved, at least in the long run. While there are other reasons for trade liberalization, this insight, going back to Ricardo's 1817 Principles of Political Economy , continues to underlie international economics. Trade also raises fairness questions. First, suppose A trades with B while parts of A's population are oppressed. Do the oppressed in A have a complaint in fairness against B? Should B cease to trade? Second, suppose because of oppression or lower social standards, A's products are cheaper than B's. Can industries in B legitimately insist that their government take measures to help them compete? The Pauper-Labor Argument makes that case, and many economists enjoy dismissing it in undergraduate classes. Third, suppose A subsidizes its industries. If this lowers world market prices, does B have a fairness complaint against A? Ought countries to consider how trade policies affect others? This article is the first of two, which together develop a view that is meant to serve as a reference point for moral assessments of international trade policies. I develop this view by way of offering affirmative answers to these three questions. Since this discussion is organized around these three questions, the two studies can be read independently of each other. Key Words: the state • World Trade Organization • development • oppression • exploitation.
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