Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Brad Pitt, Trade Expert

There is a wonderful story in the Washington Post yesterday about Brad Pitt becoming immersed in the intricacies of international trade. Pitt is fast becoming an outspoken advocate for Africa, and he is coming to realize how central trade is to that agenda.

The tutorial was sponsored by a group called DATA (debt, AIDS, trade, Africa) established by U2 lead singer Bono. DATA's mission is to "raise awareness about, and spark response to the crises swamping Africa: unpayable debts, uncontrolled spread of AIDS, and unfair trade rules which keep Africans poor.... At the core of DATA's mission is a view that these issues are not about charity, but about equality and justice."

I have mixed feelings about the news that Brad Pitt is trying to become a trade expert. My first emotion is disappointment. I have been teaching international trade here in Malibu for years and my neighbor Brad has never once expressed interest in auditing my class. Perhaps if I offered it as a night course?

Second, I find the notion rather comical. Can you imagine the tutorial lesson: "Well, Brad, there are three types of subsidies: green light, yellow light, and red light. Green light subsidies are always permitted because they enhance valuable objectives such as research and development. And then there are red light subsidies. You're familiar with red lights, right? Well these subsidies are by definition prohibited because they create import or export distortions, such as a subsidy contingent on export promotion. And then there are yellow light subsidies that cause domestic injury. Are you getting all this Brad? Oh and then yellow light subsidies are actually divided into two types: dark amber and light amber...."

But in the end I greet the news with satisfaction. If Bono and Brad Pitt think international trade is vitally important, then who am I to disagree? They are correct that trade is of tremendous importance to the developing world, and the approach that the developed world takes in continuing subsidies to farmers and the like does have dramatic repercussions in other parts of the world. According to the article, "complete trade liberalization would enrich developing countries to the tune of $135 billion a year, more than these countries receive annually in aid and much, much more than they standto gain from debt relief." The future of Africa is in part the future of international trade liberalization.

Pitt's tutors obviously tried to emphasize the nuances in the fair trade debate. "Campaigning for trade is more complex than campaigning for aid, because trade creates losers as well as winners. Some poor countries currently benefit from preferential access to rich markets -- preferences that would disappear if these markets were opened to everyone. Other poor countries are net food importers, so cutting rich-world farm subsidies and driving up food prices would hurt them."

At the end of the tutorial on Friday, Brad Pitt confessed that international trade can be a bit "fuzzy." Now he knows how my students feel.


Blogger Mrs. Non-Gorilla said...

prof. alford, thanks for posting this. i'd missed that wapo article, and although i took international trade with john jackson, i'm sure you'd be an excellent tutor for brad pitt as well.

11/22/2005 9:25 PM  
Blogger Koalaesq said...

The notion of people known for their pretty faces and not for their intellectual prowess trying to influence the world market makes me slightly queasy.
However, I must ask myself- is Pitt trying to play "informed expert" any scarier than a random talking head claiming he is an expert on everything from economics to UN reform?
Maybe a pretty face will at least draw attention to an important topic and lead people to study the matter more in depth.

11/23/2005 11:04 AM  
Blogger BigEast Wire said...

the thing that bothers me is that the average guy has to go to undergrad, go to grad school, get a JD or econ or Poly Sci PhD, write dissertations and theses and scholarly articles and be published and then they're an "expert."

Brad Pitt makes a movie about guys not talking about Fight Club and takes a few night classes and suddenly he's an expert?

11/23/2005 2:03 PM  
Blogger 2ndRow, 3rd From Left said...

A reported once asked Daniel Day Lewis what he thought about the war in Iraq and he said "I'm an actor, what do you care what I think?". He's since been my go to guy whenever a celebrity tries to act like they know something or (worse) act like we care what they think.

I hope BraPi (as he is called in Japan) brings some much needed attention to the problems of and potential solutions for Africa, be they trade, aid or otherwise. But he might be wise to say "Once you have brought your attention here, please turn your attention now to someone else, who knows what they are talking about".

If not, at least we got a little review for our trade final.

12/04/2005 6:30 PM  
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