Jagdish Bhagwati for Nobel Prize

Starting in 1996, I woke up early on an October morning and saw who won the Nobel Prize in economics. I had a deal with the Wall Street Journal that I would tell one of the editors within an hour so whether I knew enough about the winner(s) to write an op/ed that morning for the next day’s print edition.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to do so for every year since then, except 1998 (when I didn’t know enough), 1999 and 2000 (when I was teaching a course in Prague), 2002 (when I was traveling in the U.K.) , 2007 (when I didn’t know enough), and 2010 (when I didn’t know enough.) Here’s the list of past winners.

The web has made my job easier.

One economist in an email discussion yesterday joked that I must have some pre-written pieces because I have a sense of who will win. Unfortunately, no. I haven’t yet predicted correctly. I haven’t even been in the ball park. I gave up producing about a decade ago.

I did tell the people in the email discussion that I used to go the library the weekend before and check out books by 3 or 4 economists who I thought were contenders, but I quit after a few years because I never got it right.

Which brings me to Jagdish Bhagwati.

I used to check out 3 or 4 books by Bhagwati, starting in the early 2000s and going to late in that decade. I’ve always thought he was deserving. I still do. He did some of the most careful and important work on international trade and protectionism. In my graduate course on trade at UCLA, we studied his book 1969 book Trade, Tariffs, and Growth carefully. He was a master at showing why every argument for tariffs but one was a second-best argument: there was always a more direct, less distortionary way of achieving a goal other than tariffs.

What was the one first-best argument for tariffs? If I recall correctly, it was that a tariff can help a country exploit its monopsony power against exporters. I pointed out on this blog over a year ago, that, believe it or not, that seems to be what President Trump did with some of his tariffs.

Back to Bhagwati. Another strong admirer of Bhagwati was the late Paul Samuelson. Here’s an excerpt from Samuelson’s admiring note on Bhagwati:

However, in closing I turn away from any vanities of career accomplishments to substance. In the struggle to improve the lot of mankind, whether located in advanced economies or in societies climbing the ladder out of poverty, Jagdish Bhagwati has been a tireless partisan of that globalization which elevates global total-factor – productivities both of richest America and poorest regions of Asia and Africa.

Bhagwati, by the way, wrote “Protectionism,” in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.

This is NOT a prediction that Bhagwati will win. I think the Nobel Committee is too into fashion. However, it sometimes uses the prize to make a statement about policy. Given how much of a beating free trade and globalization have taken in the political realm in the last few years, this would be a good time to make such a statement.

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