American Consequences - January 2019

he nightmares are all the same. I wake up at some ungodly hour after dreaming about a looming final exam. Math was my worst subject, so the test will invariably cover numerical concepts never understood in classes sparsely attended. Some hate to have their sleep interrupted, fearing that there will be no more. In my case a sleepless night is better than the agony of a cruel dream that just won’t die. And the odd thing is, the last time I attended school was during the Clinton administration.

Night terrors related to classes that once highlighted my ineptitude seem a good jumping off point for a discussion of trade – and the accounting abstractions that witless economists have invented to express trade balances. The most disagreeable aspects of school explain the endless brilliance of free trade better than any stack of economics textbooks. Free trade allows us to do what we enjoy doing – instead of what we’re assigned to do – and what we have to do. Free trade makes going to work feel more like going to school and only taking the classes we love. In my case, I strutted into high school and college classes covering politics and economic policy, but I seemed to shrink a foot (and enough IQ points to drop into double digits) as I reluctantly darkened the doors of classes that had anything to do with math and science. Back then, the act of attending class had a

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