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Global Justice and Trade: A Puzzling Omission

82 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2007 Last revised: 5 Dec 2014

Fernando R. Tesón

Florida State University College of Law

Jonathan Klick

University of Pennsylvania Law School; Erasmus School of Law; PERC - Property and Environment Research Center

Date Written: October 2007


Economists generally agree that free trade leads to economic growth. This proposition is supported both by theoretical models and empirical data. Further, while the empirical evidence is more limited on this question, the general consensus among economists holds that trade restrictions are likely to hurt the poor. Even if the latter consensus turns out to be wrong, if free trade leads to superior growth, governments would have more resources to redistribute to the poor. It is surprising then that philosophers and human rights scholars do not advocate liberalizing trade as a way to improve the welfare of the poor as a class. While many scholars in these fields are silent with respect to the effect of free trade on the poor, some actually argue that liberalized trade is harmful for the poor, contrary to the claims of economists. In this article, we argue that any serious scholar concerned with the plight of the poor needs to address the theory and evidence regarding the effects of trade liberalization on economic growth, suggesting that the standard policy prescriptions of the philosophers and human rights scholars are, at best, of second order concern and, at worst, likely to be counterproductive in terms of improving the welfare of the poor.

Keywords: trade policy, rent seeking, poverty, welfare, institutions

JEL Classification: D63, D72, F11, F43, I31, K33, O19, O40

Suggested Citation

Tesón, Fernando R. and Klick, Jonathan, Global Justice and Trade: A Puzzling Omission (October 2007). FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 285; FSU College of Law, Law and Economics Paper No. 07-24. Available at SSRN: or

Fernando Tesón

Florida State University College of Law ( email )

425 W. Jefferson Street
Tallahassee, FL 32306
United States

Jonathan Klick (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
2157463455 (Phone)

Erasmus School of Law ( email )

3000 DR Rotterdam

PERC - Property and Environment Research Center

2048 Analysis Drive
Suite A
Bozeman, MT 59718
United States

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