Levy a tariff on all imports that rises until trade is balanced
Make American goods more attractive to foreigners than American assets
Balance trade by requiring importers to purchase credits from exporters.
On this episode of Policy in Brief, Oren Cass is joined by American Compass policy director Chris Griswold to discuss how U.S. trade fell so far out of balance—and some ideas for how to rebalance it.
“Bad competitiveness” results in weakening demand, which either reduces global production or requires surging debt to maintain demand and production at its existing level. Perhaps that rings a bell, because it is the world we live in.
In his essay, Oren Cass correctly argues that a well-functioning capitalist system requires a “bounded market” within a nation-state that imposes interdependence on labor, capital, and consumers. Frictionless capital mobility across borders, in contrast, decouples the interests of investors from their country and their workers.
Oren Cass is right to note that modern economists largely misunderstand Adam Smith. But the misunderstanding runs deeper and traces even further back than editorializing in 20th-century textbooks. For more than two centuries, scholars have ignored the relationship between Smith’s political philosophy and economic analysis.
Oren Cass takes on the entrenched belief held by the U.S. economics profession that countries should always pursue a policy of free trade. He argues that Smith and Ricardo have been misunderstood for generations because their key assumptions around capital mobility were omitted as the arguments were passed down.
Economic theorists treat globalization as the free market’s natural end state. But trade practitioners know that the opposite is true—that efforts at stitching together the world’s economies are among the messiest sausage-making exercises in policymaking.
The debate over free trade versus protectionism has been around for hundreds of years, with a level of political prominence that has varied over time. After a relatively quiet period in the post-war era, the modern debate over trade and globalization’s rules and institutions has grown quite contentious.
The first part of Mr. Cass’s argument is that the entire economics profession has either misread or misinterpreted a sentence in Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, and that it has built the case for free trade from that alleged misreading or misrepresentation. This is simply and fundamentally not true.
Adapted from remarks delivered by Senator Marco Rubio on the 20th anniversary of China’s ascension to the WTO.
Regulatory skeptics make a fundamental mistake in assuming that the United States can freely choose between greater state intervention in digital markets and a continued laissez-faire approach.
Unilaterally disarming from trade conflict on behalf of open markets, and then making empty demands, is not a plan.
Although neoliberal globalists are often said to be opposed to industrial policy and strategic trade, that is not necessarily true. Neoliberals of the kind who have dominated U.S. policy under the two Bushes, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are not orthodox anti-government libertarians. They support a particular kind of industrial policy, whose emblem is not the American eagle but the Japanese goose.
A Response to Michael Lind
Professor Dan Drezner is again illustrating how we ended up with a misbegotten consensus on globalization built upon inadequate assumptions and shallow analysis. A couple of weeks ago, we encountered him badly mischaracterizing a study about the supposed value of trade liberalization. Breezing past that issue, he is back now with a more outlandish claim, that: “a world in which ‘trade were balanced, domestic industry robust, and productivity rising’ is a world that not only does not exist, but very likely cannot exist” (emphasis in original).
German philosopher Hegel postulated that history progresses through thesis, antithesis and then synthesis. Today we are seeing the first two dynamics with trade policy and attitudes towards globalization; we desperately need the third.
In a recent post, Rachel Bovard rightly defended the notion that in certain instances national security considerations should supersede free trade considerations. She specifically cited the ban on Huawei in the context of a discussion of a recent Real Clear Markets column by economist John Tamny, who makes a traditional free market case against the ban on Huawei in the US market
In a recent Real Clear Markets column, economist John Tamny made the case that Oren Cass’s policy advice is backwards and will result in political doom for, in Tamny’s words, “the hyper emotional Marco Rubio.”
Professor Dan Drezner has been crudely criticizing Senator Josh Hawley’s New York Times op-ed on U.S. withdrawal from the WTO—treating it “the way one would treat an undergrad paper in global political economy,” awarding a C-minus, and offering the feedback that, “You can do better work than this, Josh. Put in the effort, do more research and make sharper arguments next time.” He exposes the fundamental weakness of his critique though, with the claim that “Hawley prefers exiting the WTO and rejecting the estimated $2.1 trillion in benefits from trade,” in the process demonstrating exactly what simplistic economic analyses of trade policy get wrong.
It is refreshing to see an increasing number of politicians and pundits from across the political spectrum calling for re-establishing their manufacturing base to address the vulnerabilities exposed in the wake of COVID-19. The latest is GOP Senator Josh Hawley, calling for the abolition of the World Trade Organization, in a NY Times Op-ed.
Sen. Josh Hawley recently opined in the New York Times about the need for the US to back out of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and engage the global economy with bilateral trade agreements that better reflect American interests.
If comparative advantage is created rather than discovered, refusing to play the game has consequences.