Friday, December 2, 2005

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Let's talk about trade

I have an article in the latest issue of The American Interest on American attitudes about international trade. It's called "Trade Talk."

As the opening suggests, I'm not optimistic:

American perceptions about international trade have changed dramatically in the past two decades. Presidents can no longer craft positions on international trade issuesforeign economic policy in a vacuum. Trade now intersects with other highly politicized issues, ranging from the war on terror to environmental protection to bilateral relations with China. Old issues such as the trade deficit and new issues such as offshore outsourcing have made a liberal trade policy one of the most difficult political sells inside the Beltway.

Indeed, shifts in domestic attitudes have created the least hospitable environment for trade liberalization in recent memory. Unfortunately, this inhospitable environment has arisen at a time when trade is more vital to the U.S. economy than ever. The challenge for this President and for those who succeed him will be to reinvigorate U.S. trade policies despite the current public mood. In short, it is the challenge to lead.

Alas, the rest of it is behind a subscription firewall. But go subscribe -- or buy this issue from anewsstand -- and then check it out.

posted by Dan on 12.02.05 at 12:16 PM


Jeez Dan, what's next, hiding yourself behind Times Select? Too bad, I have a trade paper due next week and would love to have quoted you, but I'm not going to get a subscription to some publication I've never heard of for one article.

Having said that I can't blame you for wanting to make a buck.

posted by: Colin on 12.02.05 at 12:16 PM [permalink]

Would love to read it too, but not tonight.

You say "trade is more vital to the US economy than ever."

Indeed. Without trade, we'd have no toys, clothes, electronics, furniture, small appliances, ceramics, machine tools, lightbulbs, small manufactured goods, less steel, less cement, fewer auto parts and nothing on the shelves of most retail (non-grocery) stores.

(And the rest of the world would have less pieces of paper we print that say IOU.)

posted by: CurtisE on 12.02.05 at 12:16 PM [permalink]

Can't afford to subscribe since I'm living on a fixed income, but share your pessimism. I blame it on the political divisions of the last ten years. Seriously, though, the media do a much better job of reporting single bad events like the closing of a factory or outsourcing white collar jobs than reporting on overall economic success. Now, as well, it is the media that is suffering contraction, although not yet by losing out to foreign competitors. Things were easier when GOP congresspeople where not worried about losing power and could vote their economic preferences and Dems, at least some of them, could support trade deals worked out by a Democratic president. Now every GOP member of congress has got to be looking over his or her shoulder and realizing that gerrymandering might not save their majority from the wrath of a public grown tired of the corruption and fiscal abandon, let alone a war that the administration can't seem to defend.

posted by: jimbo on 12.02.05 at 12:16 PM [permalink]

The challenge to lead, eh?

Does this mean driving government policy toward trade liberalization in spite of the public mood, or trying to chang the public mood so that government policy can be driven toward trade liberalization?

The first would be difficult, and probably not sustainable. The second is well beyond the capability not only of the current administration but of any of its likely successors.

I hate to be a wet blanket on free trade of all issues, but if five or even ten years from now the overall trade environment is not significantly more restrictive than it is now we will have to consider it a major victory.

posted by: Zathras on 12.02.05 at 12:16 PM [permalink]

Patience, patience, patience. When all those past free trade deals lead to actual improvement in peoples lives, there will be ample room for advancement - or don't you believe in your own theories?

posted by: Lord on 12.02.05 at 12:16 PM [permalink]

If we in Ohio continue to enjoy the benefits of trade there will be nothing left in a few generations.

Other than being able to buy cheap Chinese-made stuff at Wal-mart, I have trouble finding any net benefit to trade deals.

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 12.02.05 at 12:16 PM [permalink]

Perhaps we also should limit trade and commerce between states since that has also hurt poor Ohio.

posted by: john on 12.02.05 at 12:16 PM [permalink]

First of all, among Washington policy wonks and other self-appointed smart guys, there are few positions more unassailable, actually, than free trade. Criticize any international economic trend in a way that sounds even slightly anti-free trade and you will immediately be branded a complete economic rube. The alleged trend towards protectionism is vastly overstated. I'd love to introduce a bill that would grant me $1 million annually for life and call it the "free trade promotion act," because while it might not pass, every think tank, economics professor, editorial writer, and opinion columnist would immediately leap to its defense--hey, it's about *free trade*!

Maybe some of our free trade agreements aren't negotiated very well, or aren't about what people think they're about. Why did we negotiate an 800-page "free trade" agreement with Singapore, which already had almost no tariffs on manufactured goods before the agreement? (Hint: because our trade agreements are more about investment than anything else--not necessarily a bad thing, but different than what people think...)

Part of what's happened, with the Singapore example above, is that pro-free trade folks aren't very honest about what's going on, in many cases...

posted by: Chris R on 12.02.05 at 12:16 PM [permalink]

subscription firewalls : information :: trade barriers : goods


posted by: fling93 on 12.02.05 at 12:16 PM [permalink]

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