Religious Liberalism
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
The below was written in response to a WSJ article on Blinder:

After reading Pain From Free Trade... I have a few thoughts to share with you.

First, Blinder and other economists (and even people in the workforce) tend to focus on categories of jobs that can't be offshored due to person-to-person or on-site requirements. I think this is actually a poor long-term tool for predicting the dynamics of job movement. A great deal of technology is focused on enabling remote delivery of a variety of these services (think remote surgery). Furthermore, highly skilled people in these trades can come to the U.S. and displace locals just as they might do from a distance.

In my opinion, the 'American difference' has never been about the quality of our education (we tend to score poorly on standard tests) or the protections at our borders. It has to do with two more fundamental components: the style of our education and the flexibility of our social, economic & political systems.

The vast majority of countries train people for specific jobs - from dentists to landscapers. Education is far more focused far earlier than it is in the U.S.. These people become the classic cogs in their societies' great economic machines. In the U.S., our educational system has a fundamentally different goal. The liberal arts education, and the late specialization, are both designed to teach Americans how to learn. Where others are cogs, we are oil. We change careers often and this is fundamentally built into our educational DNA. We may not be as strong as others in particular fields, but we are far better at filling the cracks as new opportunities are created - or as we create them.

Our educational system does not stand alone in this characteristic. Our entire society is built on flexibility. We honor trailblazers in all fields, including the ones they create. This flexibility is what makes our economy so dynamic. It is why we have sustained our growth where others like Japan or most European countries have faltered. Economists love to paint long-term pictures of the economic future. But these paintings are even less reliable than long-term weather forecasts. They necessarily fail to take into account the unpredictable changes that will roll through the global economy because of human ingenuity and the ever shifting web of circumstance. A directed economy scores well - until these uncertainties add up - and then an economic shudder runs through the entire system.

Government policy should not encourage particular positions or training. It shouldn't shut down competition in certain fields. Inevitable change will only be more painful if it is resisted. A billion small changes, spread over decades, are easier to handle than a few massive ones caused by the bankruptcy of a anachronistic system. France is a great example of this. Government policy should ensure that our legal, educational, health and other basic systems are dynamic enough to handle whatever may come. In most cases this will involve tapping the creativity of the private sector. The quality that will enable the middle-class American to continue to prosper is their inherent flexibility, and the flexibility of the system that has been created around them. The strains arise where these systems have fallen far behind the needs and strengths of the modern world (think Social Security when compared with Australian Superannuation).

There will be economic pain with change - but sticking our heads in the mud and resisting that change will only make it all the worse when it comes.

Take a look at the show on for a wonderful, historical, take on all of this. It starts from the very basic political history of our American system and expands to talk about economics and just about everything else.

Thank you,

Joseph Cox
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A religious liberal is committed both to his or her religion and to the belief that governments are established primarily for the protection of individual liberty and human rights.

Chana is the academic who wrote Liberty, G-d's Gift to Humanity, Joseph relates the ideas to current events and discussions.

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