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Why are Anti-Free Trade Voters so Influential?


After the release of its October World Economic report on Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund warned that anemic economic growth throughout the world could increase anti-trade sentiment.

On both sides of the aisle candidates are shying away from free trade and promising to bring back "good" - manufacturing - jobs to the United States (Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump). That's worrying a lot of people in the economic world including the manager of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde.

She said in an interview on CNBC that she is especially concerned about Mr. Trump's anti-trade commentary. 

She added that, "Trade has historically been a major driver of growth ... it has moved the needle in many ways [and] to restrict trade in our view would be an economic malpractice."

Idalia Bastiaens is a professor of International Political Economy at Fordham University. She said the reason why anti-trade sentiments have so much influence in the political realm is because:

"When we are thinking about the costs and benefits of free trade typically the costs are very concentrated"

For example, if an American Oreo factory moves to Mexico, then everyone in the United States benefits a little from slightly cheaper cookies. But the so-called losers of free trade, the people who worked at the factory, lose their entire livelihoods. The factory workers, as a result, are more incentivized to take political action against free trade.

Bastiaens said, "All of us with our small benefits - we don't have the same incentive or ability to come together and say hey we really are benefiting."

Bastiaens said that free trade has helped to lift millions of people around the world out of poverty. She said government can help those who lose from trade by giving them the tools they need to navigate a changing economy.