The Effects of Free Trade on Development, Democracy, and Environmental Protection



Much literature in the social sciences addresses the relationship between economic development and democracy. Many large-scale surveys have found a strong relationship between economic development and democracy, while others indicate a more complex dynamic involving education and inequality. Comparative studies of fewer cases indicate ambiguous results but suggest the importance of historical contingencies, class conflict, unionization, and opposition parties. Free trade advocates argue that trade leads to economic development, which leads to increased demands for and gains in environmental protection. I argue, however, that the relationship needs to be understood in a more complex and dynamic way that takes into account a variety of political, cultural, and economic developments resulting from freer trade. Accordingly, I raise several reasons to be skeptical about claims linking free trade, development, democracy, and environmental protection. I further argue that free trade acts as a cultural constraint upon democratic and environmental protection initiatives.