Megan McArdle, Bloomberg:
Free traders — and I include myself — have often sounded too glib about the offsetting benefits of cheap imports. Cheap imports are great. But people value work, and the ability to build some sort of reasonably predictable, stable economic future, more than they do cheap flat-panel televisions. With effects this large, the cost to people who are forced into economic precariousness by permanent labor market changes is larger in human welfare terms than the benefits of affordable electronics.
I’m not saying that we were glib: In fact, my stance on trade was rooted in two quite sound observations.
The first is that all economic growth makes some people worse off, often permanently. The Luddites were absolutely right that textile mills threatened their livelihood; moreover, it’s quite likely that many of them never did as well as craftsmen had when weaving was a cottage industry. However, if we’d allowed them to hold back technological progress, we’d all be living at the quite miserable standards of 1800, rather than enjoying the comparative ease and health available even to the poorest Americans.