Daniel W. Drezner

Why foreign economic policy wonks will be in a grumpy mood until Election Day

Why foreign economic policy wonks will be in a grumpy mood until Election Day

The Financial Times’ Alan Beattie is in a grumpy mood about the 2012 campaign, which leads to a wonderfully cranky column about the appalling campaign rhetoric on the global economy: 

Hypocrisy and exaggeration may be an inevitable part of any election campaign, but the discussions on international economics and trade have had experts in the field longing for next Tuesday’s vote to be over.

Herds of peaceably grazing policy wonks have been left shaking their heads in dismay as the marauding presidential campaigns have rampaged through their turf, leaving a trail of wrong-headed assumptions, non sequiturs and outright falsehoods strewn behind them….

Unfortunately, a realistic debate would involve admitting that some of the biggest international economic threats to the US are outside any administration’s influence, and thus destroy an implicit pact to maintain the myth of presidential omnipotence….

And, most likely, we’ll be back here again in four years’ time, with the challenger accusing the incumbent of selling out to China and letting jobs be shipped overseas and the incumbent, by accepting the premise of the attack, ensuring another debate about the global economy that takes place at an oblique angle to reality.

I’m moderately more optimistic than Beattie on what will happen next year on the foreign economic policy front regardless of who wins on Tuesday, but he’s not wrong about the ridiculously stupid four-year political cycle. 

Unfortunately, if foreign economic policy wonks were honest with ourselves, we’d have to acknowledge that the truth would not really be a big political winner, unless you think the following speech would really bring out the undecideds:

I strongly favor inking more trade and investment agreements on behalf of the United States.  Yes, it’s likely true that greater globalization is one of the lesser drivers for increased inequality in the United States.  Oh, and no trade deal is going to be a jobs bonanza — the sectors that trade extensively are becoming so productive that they don’t lead to a lot of direct job creation.  Will some jobs be lost from these deals?  Probably a few, but not a lot.  But on average, greater globalization will boost our productivity a bit, which will in turn cause the economy to grow just a bit faster, which will indirectly create some jobs.  Goods will be cheaper, which benefits consumers.  Oh, and by the way, there are some decent security benefits that come with signing trade agreements.  

Finally, the rest of the world is going to keep signing free trade agreeements and bilateral invesment treaties whether we play this game or not.  So we can choose to stand pat and have our firms and consumers lose out on the benefits of additional gains from globalization, or we can actually, you know, lead or something.  Your call.   Greater integration with the rest of the globe is no economic panacea, but the one thing we’re pretty sure about is that most of the policy alternatives stink on ice.

Here’s a challenge to foreign economic policy wonks — can the above message be sexed up at all without overpromising?  In other words, what would be the best possible campaign rhetoric about foreign economic policy that would have the benefit of also being true?