(Small) gains from trade
Kieran Healy links to a paper by Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas and Olivier Jeanne in which a calibrated growth accounting model is used to show that the gains from unrestricted capital mobility are likely to be of the order of 1 per cent of GDP. Gains from risk sharing aren’t mentioned but other papers are cited to say that these are of a similar magnitude.
Those who listen to the general pronouncements of economists might be surprised by the modest size of the estimated gains. But for those who have looked at similar exercises in the past there is no surprise here. One of the better-kept secrets of economics is the fact that most studies suggest that the replacement of a typical high-tariff regime (say Australia’s in the 1960s) will yield long run benefits of about 3 per cent of GDP.
Those who raise questions about this point are likely to be brushed off with a reference to supposed dynamic gains, not captured in this ‘static’ analysis. This brings us to an even better-kept secret. These ‘dynamic gains’ have about as much basis in neoclassical economic theory as the Tooth Fairy.
To complicate matters a bit further, there is a theoretically respectable category of dynamic gains, arising from the removal of distortions in intertemporal resource allocation, but these are even more modest than the static gains. In fact, the gains looked at by Gourinchas and Jeanne.
The last line of defence is the idea of X-efficiency, or the ‘cold shower’ effect of competition. As Chicago stalwart George Stigler was the first to point out, this idea is based on the fallacious assumption that additional work effort is costless. This fallacy is hard to kill, but anybody who’s experienced 1990s-style ‘workplace reform’ knows it for what it is. I’ve been hammering away on this point for at least a decade, for example here and here (PDF), but with very little impact.