David R. Henderson  

Speaking at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

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Bottom line: If you get asked to make a proposal to speak at OLLI, say yes.

Yesterday, I gave a talk in Monterey for the local Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), the one that's affiliated with California State University, Monterey Bay. The topic was "The Case for Free Trade." In the materials sent out to people to get them to sign up for the lecture, I wrote the following:

The number of votes cast for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump suggests that many Americans are wary of free trade and free trade agreements. Economists, by contrast, are almost unanimous in their support of free trade.

In this two-part series, economics scholar David Henderson will lay out the case for free trade while considering the main criticisms of this politically charged issue. In addition, Dr. Henderson will uncover the strong connection between free trade and world peace and will make the case for liberalized immigration.


Registration was closed because so many people signed up. Almost all showed up for the first lecture.

OLLI is named after Bernard Osher [shown in the picture above], a wealthy philanthropist who has no heirs and is giving away his whole fortune. The course tends to attract older people--thus the "Lifelong" part. I had given a lecture on the cost of war a few years ago to the same organization, and I enjoyed it a lot. One of my styles is to ask questions of the audience to (1) bring them in and (2) see what they know. When I gave the war talk a few years ago and found that for every question I asked, 5 or 6 hands went up in the air and invariably the person who answered got it right, I paused to say "It's fun talking to people who know things."

Before my talk, a close friend warned me that given the expected age of the audience and the controversial topic, I should be prepared for people to dig in their heals and insist on telling me and the rest of the audience "how it is." Didn't happen. They totally got into it, enjoyed it, seemed to understand it, and asked good questions. There was no grandstanding by any of the approximately 50 people there.

In fact, I walked them through a numerical example (like this, but I used different numbers) to show the Ricardo point that trade allows each person to specialize in the item in which he has a comparative advantage. And I didn't just ask a question and answer it myself. When I asked the opportunity costs, I waited until someone answered. That was in the first 20 minutes and I assured them during those calculations that everything afterwards would be easier. (I asked them to read Paul Krugman's "Ricardo's Difficult Idea" before the talk. About one third of them did.)

I then gave some of my favorite examples of comparative advantage: Dikembe Mutombo being a basketball player instead of a doctor but using his earnings to build a hospital in Zaire, the lawyer who's a better typist than her typist but doesn't type, why if you're someone who wants to join the Peace Corps to help people, you should instead get the highest-paying job you can in the United States and then live frugally, sending a huge amount of money to people in the poor country you want to help (imitating, in your own small way, Dikembe Mutombo), and Babe Ruth being a very good pitcher but instead being an outfielder.

Next week, we talk about immigration. I'm looking forward to it.

HT2 Michele Crompton for urging me to submit a proposal and for running a tight ship. Also thanks to Michele's assistant, Lena, for her very competent help with PowerPoint and Youtube.


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CATEGORIES: International Trade




COMMENTS (4 to date)
andy weintraub writes:

I, too, teach at the Bard College Lifetime Learning Institute, in Annandale on Hudson, NY; as well as at a similar organization called Lifespring, in Saugerties, NY. Both are in the Hudson Valley region.

After teaching economics for 35 years at Rutgers, Lehigh and Temple universities, I've found these classes of "seniors" to be the most exciting and challenging of all. They all want to be there, don't let me get away with anything, come prepared, and thank me profusely at the end of each class.

Youth is wasted on the young.

Matthias Görgens writes:

Nah, it's not youth that's wasted: it's education that's not for learning's sake that's wasted.

High school is mostly to store kids with low imvestmwnt in human labour until they are old enough to become sensible adults. Attendance is mandatory for the kids. (In eg Germany legally. In Ameruca, I guess it's at least the parents who usually push for it.)

At university there's a better chance of getting some learninf done. But there's also the issue of getting a degree at the end, which only somewhat correlates with learning anything.

In contrast with the idiom, you don't actually want a captive audience. (Though ironic anecdote: I remember reading a blog post by some guy teaching courses in prisons. Literally a captive audience, but attendance was still voluntary for the inmates, so they were quite motivated and eager. I can try to find that post, if anyone's interested.)

I wonder how well giving a similar talk on free trade would work at a union organised lifelong learning centre?

Krishnan writes:

I agree (about teaching at OLLI) - the "students" are amazing in how curious they are and how they really want to learn - they can pepper you with questions (as they try to understand) - and it can be exhilarating for the teacher (!) - The ones that show up are educated in the sense they have degrees in something - have worked for many many years (decades) but are still exploring areas of interest to them and what they do not understand - you get a sense of what education should really be about - wading into areas where you are weak but want to strengthen yourself!

TMC writes:

I am big (dare I say yuge!) supporter for free trade, even without the benefits. I think you should be able to trade with whomever you'd like.

The thing is, we do not have free trade. We have negotiated trade deals. Trump's idea seems to be that we need to negotiate a better deal. Recently a report on NAFTA found the US gains from NAFTA was about nothing, Canada benefited slightly and Mexico benefited somewhat. So better than nothing overall. Trump still wants to trade, but also get some of the benefits from it.

The PPT sounded like a good deal, but 5000 pages of free trade sounds like a lot more trade protection than free trade.

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