"To see weeds grow where we used to build things that were in every General Motors vehicle is just terrible." —Art Reyes, electrician and former GM employee, Flint, Michigan
In Flint, Michigan, a weed-strewn lot is all that's left of a factory that once employed over 10,000 people. In Haiti, cheap subsidized American rice has flooded the market, forcing local producers out of business and into the capital, Port-au-Prince, where they struggle to find work. In Ghana, the International Monetary Fund's "structural adjustment" has meant selling public assets to foreign investors and a market flooded with cheap imports.
All of these events can be traced back to the thinking of two men born in the 18th century: David Ricardo and Thomas Malthus.
Ricardo was a stockbroker who developed the notion of comparative advantage: that countries should specialize and meet each other's needs through trade. Malthus was the demographer who feared a population explosion would cause the world to run out of food by 1890, and worked with Ricardo to eliminate public assistance for the poor in order to create a mobile and motivated workforce.
Together, they would restructure society in the image of the market. But the origins of international trade are far from free. They involved heavy subsidies, market protection, and the barrels of guns pointed at recalcitrant nations.
Featuring economics superstar Thomas Piketty, former WTO Director-General Pascal Lamie, former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson, sociologist David Graeber, and others. View the complete list of storytellers.