Why don’t we treat free trade like global warming?
Belief in anthropogenic global warming is a sort of political signifier for American liberals – if you don’t think human activity is changing the Earth’s climate, they’re probably not going to take you very seriously. This is not because every leftist has independently verified the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s findings and concluded that people who disagree are blinkered or stupid. Instead, liberals quite sensibly think that when a critical mass of scientists arrive at a certain conclusion, we should take that conclusion as a given and proceed accordingly.
Despite being fairly conservative, I basically accept this logic. If most scientists believe in climate change, I’m inclined to nod my head and move on. As far as optimal mitigation strategies go, I waffle between a more hands-off, Manzian approach and a revenue-neutral carbon tax. I’m not sure how I feel about cap-and-trade. As I said, this is not exactly my area of expertise.
Barring real evidence of systematic bias or incompetence, I’m willing to accept the consensus view of specialists in most fields (to preempt the inevitable, I don’t think the infamous “Climate-gate” memos demonstrate systematic bias). So here’s my question, prompted by what sounded like a shot at free trade in E. D.’s latest post: Why don’t we accord the same level of deference to economists? Shouldn’t the pro-free trade consensus within the field of economics be as bullet-proof as belief in global warming?
It’s not a partisan issue – in my opinion, the best introduction to the benefits of international trade was written by Paul Krugman. And the strength of the pro-free trade consensus in economics is at least as robust as the consensus view among climatologists. There are a few high profile dissenters, but those exist in every field, including climatology.
If an overwhelming number of trained specialists in a particular field agree on one issue, shouldn’t we just take their word for it? And if not, why not? Why is economics any different from climatology?