On Wednesday evening, at the Queensland College of Art at South Brisbane, I attended the Brisbane launch of Australian Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh’s new book Choosing Openness: Why global engagement is best for Australia. It is a Lowy Institute Paper published by Penguin, and branded as one of its Penguin Specials, which are meant to be “concise, original and affordable.” At $9.99 Choosing Openness certainly is affordable (as well as being concise, at 143 pages, and original), and represents excellent value for money, being packed with interesting facts, data and arguments in favour of free trade and a liberal foreign investment policy.
One thing I really like about the book is that Andrew has gone back to old newspapers to find actual product prices from 1987 which illustrate just how much better off we are in real terms after bringing down the tariff wall, with much cheaper cars, clothes and shoes than thirty years ago. He is a strong believer in the benefits of unilateral trade liberalisation. That is, tariff cuts are in your own interest even if other countries do not cut their own tariffs. Andrew notes in his book:
As economist Joan Robinson once put it, even if your trading partner dumps rocks in their harbour, you do not become better off by dumping rocks in your own harbour.
At the book launch, I asked Andrew about his views on whether labour market reform was the great unfinished business of economic reform in Australia. Of course, as a member of the federal Opposition, which is advocating a reversal of sensible and modest reductions to penalty rates, Andrew was not supportive of labour market reform. He instead floated the idea that what we might actually need is more labour market regulation, particularly in the sharing economy, to deal with the concern that many Uber drivers are effectively earning below minimum wages. Andrew does not extend the same logic he applies to the analysis of international trade and investment to the labour market and sharing economy, but that is to be expected given his current political role. Should Labor win office at the next election, I expect Andrew will be a strong voice for sensible economic policy within the government.
Overall, Choosing Openness is an excellent book and I highly recommend it to all my readers (particularly to those who may have an influence on Queensland Government procurement policy, which regrettably has become protectionist). If you would like to read Choosing Openness this weekend, you could download the e-book for $6.99 from Booktopia among other sites. What a bargain!
A nice note from Dr Andrew Leigh MP, who I first met in Treasury in 2008, when we were both working in the Fiscal Group.