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Econlib QuickPicks- International Trade

Welcome to Econlib QuickPicks!

Each month, we send a collection of resources about a particular topic right to your inbox. This month, based on readers' requests, we're focusing on International Trade. We had a really hard time narrowing our selections for this collection, so you can be sure to see more on this topic in future QuickPicks editions!

International trade is alleged to be one of the concepts economists unanimously agree on. So why is it always in the news, and why does it seem to be so contentious? People gain when they trade, right? Read on, and we hope you find answers to these questions and more.

As always, we like to hear from you... How did you enjoy this month's collection? What have we failed to consider? And perhaps most interestingly, what did you do with this collection? Stories, photos, and anecdotes are always welcome. Please let us know at

(By the way, we'd love to know what future QuickPicks topics you'd like to see. Drop us a line with your suggestions today.)

Exchange and Trade
Economists disagree about some things, but they universally agree that free trade–meaning the opportunity to engage in voluntary exchange or trade–is beneficial on all sides. To summarize this mutual benefit, economists often say “There are gains from trade.”
Video: The Free Market
This segment, part of a video series at AdamSmithWorks explores the history of trade, including the harmful effects felt by some as these changes emerge.
For Discussion: Nations Gain When They Trade... But What About ME?
What do we really know from international trade theory, and how does it compare to what we see on the ground? Are all international trading partners created equal? This week, EconTalk host Russ Roberts sat down with MIT’s David Autor for a hard-hitting conversation about the impact of trade with China on US labor markets.
Concise Encyclopedia: International Trade
On the topic of international trade, the views of economists tend to differ from those of the general public. There are three principal differences... noneconomic views of trade all seem to stem from a common root: the tendency for human beings to emphasize tribal rivalries.
Biography: David Ricardo
... Ricardo formulated the idea of comparative costs, today called comparative advantage—a very subtle idea that is the main basis for most economists’ belief in free trade today. The idea is this: a country that trades for products it can get at lower cost from another country is better off than if it had made the products at home.
Commercial Reprisals are a Mistake
Pedro Schwartz channels his inner Bastiat, advising that free trade is the best revenge!
Barriers to Trade
A barrier to trade is a government-imposed restraint on the flow of international goods or services. But why would governments impose them? Why restrict access to goods and services?
A Brief History of International Trade Policy
Since the time of the ancient Greek philosophers, there has been a dual view of trade: a recognition of the benefits of international exchange combined with a concern that certain domestic industries (or laborers, or culture) would be harmed by foreign competition... Still, as evidenced by the intense debates over trade today, the tensions inherent in this dual view of trade have never been overcome.
Further Reading from Jacob Viner
One of Viner’s greatest accomplishments is his book Studies in the Theory of International Trade. This work is not just a history of the theory of international trade but also a guidebook that tells where the early economists who studied trade were wrong and where they were right.
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