Free trade, widely regarded as a boon by economists, has always been less popular with human beings; now its friends seem to be getting fewer by the day. A recent survey conducted by the Center on Policy Attitudes (COPA) reveals that, in the words of COPA Director Steven Kull, "feelings about international trade have gone from lukewarm to luker."
When USA Today requested a breakdown of the results by respondent income, a more curious trend emerged: Among those making more than $100,000 annually, traditionally the biggest trade enthusiasts, support for trade collapsed to about half the level at which it stood in 1999. During the same period, the proportion of high earners who want to slow or reverse the expansion of free trade nearly doubled. As global competition inches its way up the income ladder, it's easy to conclude that self-interest plays a significant role in the attitude change. Yet if competition is good for the auto industry, shouldn't it be equally good for the software sector?
Among the stranger results of the survey: People seem to think that trade is, on balance, good for consumers but bad for workers. Aren't they usually the same people?
Graph: Changes in Public Attitudes Toward Freer Trade (not available online)