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Dani Rodrik

Dani Rodrik

I am an economist, and a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. My most recent book is Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science (Norton, 2015). I was born and grew up in Istanbul, Turkey. I still follow Turkish politics very closely, as you will find out if you spend any time with this blog.

Articles by Dani Rodrik

More on distinguishing ideas and interests — an exchange with Peter Hall

3 days ago

My recent post on ideas versus interests elicited some comments from Peter Hall, my Harvard colleague who has done probably more thinking on this issue than any other scholar I know. With his permission, I am attaching these comments below, along with the brief subsequent exchange we have had.
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Dani,
A few quick thoughts inspired by your recent blog post on ideas and interests.  As you know, this is a topic that has long interested me.  These are rather cryptic thoughts (ars longa, vitae brevis) but I pass them along in case they are stimulating.
You are, of course, right to observe that interests are always interpreted (by ideas), i.e. they do not arise unambiguously from the material world.  And I think you are on the right track when you contrast the

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Has Global Finance Reformed Itself More Than It Appears?

4 days ago

The answer is yes, according to Ilene Grabel in her fascinating new book When Things Don’t Fall Apart. I wrote a preface for the book, which is reproduced below. It explains why I liked the book so much.
It happens only rarely and is all the more pleasurable because of it. You pick up a manuscript that fundamentally changes the way you look at certain things. This is one such book. Ilene Grabel has produced a daring and delightful reinterpretation of developments in global finance since the Asian financial crisis of 1997–1998.
The book addresses, and resolves, a long-standing puzzle: Why has our present model of financial globalization been so resilient, despite an abysmal track record that includes the most severe global financial crisis since the Great Depression, recurrent sovereign

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Telling interests and ideas apart

6 days ago

A long standing debate in the social sciences is whether behavior is driven by “interests” or “ideas.” The debate is central in political science, where it plays out as an argument between realists and constructivists. It is less well articulated in economics, to the discipline’s detriment. (See here for my thoughts on what economists would gain by taking the role of ideas seriously.)
As constructivists like to point out, interests are “congealed ideas.” Or to put it differently, we don’t have interests; we have ideas about what our interests are. Perhaps it’s all about interests in the short run and it’s all about ideas in the long-run.     
But if so, is there an analytically meaningful distinction between ideas and interests? And could we ever distinguish empirically between cases

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My Twitter account has been hacked

10 days ago

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In Defense of Economic Populism

13 days ago

Populists’ aversion to institutional restraints extends to the economy, where they oppose obstacles placed in their way by autonomous regulatory agencies, independent central banks, and global trade rules. But while populism in the political domain is almost always harmful, economic populism can sometimes be justified.
CAMBRIDGE – Populists abhor restraints on the political executive. Since they claim to represent “the people” writ large, they regard limits on their exercise of power as necessarily undermining the popular will. Such constraints can only serve the “enemies of the people” – minorities and foreigners (for right-wing populists) or financial elites (in the case of left-wing populists).

The Year Ahead 2018

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The Economics Debate, again and again

December 21, 2017

The debate on the economics profession – its alleged ills and failings — abates at times, but never ends. A recent piece in The Guardian taking the profession to task for its lack of reform has prompted a response from a group of economists. I thought it was time to re-up my own views on this debate, in the form of two sets of ten commandments. The first set is directed at economists, and the second to non-economists.   

Ten commandments for economists

1.      Economics is a collection of models; cherish their diversity.

2.      It’s a model, not the model.

3.      Make your model simple enough to isolate specific causes and how they work, but not so simple that it leaves out key interactions among causes.

4.      Unrealistic assumptions are OK; unrealistic

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Does Europe Really Need Fiscal and Political Union?

December 11, 2017

There is a growing sense in Europe, among conservatives and progressives alike, that fiscal and eventual political union is necessary to maintain the euro without damaging economic performance or democratic values. But there is also an alternative, much less ambitious view, according to which only banking union is needed.
CAMBRIDGE – Greece’s combative former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, and his nemesis, former German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, were at loggerheads on Greek debt throughout Varoufakis’s term in office. But they were in full agreement when it came to the central question of the eurozone’s future. Monetary union required political union. No middle way was possible.

The Year Ahead 2018

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How to Combat Populist Demagogues

November 13, 2017

We will never know whether greater honesty on the part of mainstream politicians and technocrats would have spared us the rise of nativist demagogues like Donald Trump in the US or Marine Le Pen in France. What is clear is that lack of candor in the past has come at a steep price.
CAMBRIDGE – At a recent conference I attended, I was seated next to a prominent American trade policy expert. We began to talk about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which President Donald Trump has blamed for American workers’ woes and is trying to renegotiate. “I never thought NAFTA was a big deal,” the economist said.

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Taking a Crack at Neoliberalism

November 8, 2017

Here is the back story for my new piece “Rescuing Economics from Neoliberalism,” just out in the Boston Review.
I have never been a fan of the term “neoliberal.” It has never been quite clear what it means. Nor is it obvious who today’s neoliberals are. Thatcher, Reagan, Pinochet in their day, yes. But today?
Nevertheless, the term is widely used by its many critics to condemn in quite broad brush terms a certain way of thinking of the role of the market in society. There are more careful exegeses that give neoliberalism a more precise meaning and a specific historical trajectory (see here and here). But in public discourse the term has become a loose cannon – or to use perhaps a more appropriate metaphor — a spray gun directed at one’s intellectual opponents.
I was happy to keep

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Growth Without Industrialization?

October 10, 2017

Low-income African countries can sustain moderate rates of productivity growth into the future, on the back of steady improvements in human capital and governance. But the evidence suggests that, without manufacturing gains, the growth rates brought about recently by rapid structural change are exceptional and may not last.
CAMBRIDGE – Despite low world prices for the commodities on which they tend to depend, many of the world’s poorest economies have been doing well. Sub-Saharan Africa’s economic growth has slowed precipitously since 2015, but this reflects specific problems in three of its largest economies (Nigeria, Angola, and South Africa). Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Senegal, Burkina Faso, and Rwanda are all projected to achieve growth of 6% or higher this

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Macron’s Labor Gambit

September 7, 2017

French President Emmanuel Macron’s entourage has been wisely telling anyone who will listen not to expect too much from the proposed new labor code. Indeed, the economics of the reforms suggest that they are unlikely to make a big difference on their own.
CAMBRIDGE –At the end of August, French president Emmanuel Macron unveiled the labor-market overhaul that will make or break his presidency – and may well determine the future of the eurozone. His goal is to bring down France’s stubbornly high rate of unemployment, just a shade below 10%, and energize an economy that badly needs a kick-start.

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Macron’s Labor Gambit

September 7, 2017

CAMBRIDGE –At the end of August, French president Emmanuel Macron unveiled the labor-market overhaul that will make or break his presidency – and may well determine the future of the eurozone. His goal is to bring down France’s stubbornly high rate of unemployment, just a shade below 10%, and energize an economy that badly needs a kick-start.

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Labor reform has long been on France’s agenda. Practically every French administration in recent memory has tried to rewrite the country’s gargantuan labor code, typically failing in the face of trade union protests. Macron makes no bones about what he is up

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The G20’s Misguided Globalism

July 6, 2017

HAMBURG – This year’s G20 summit in Hamburg promises to be among the more interesting in recent years. For one thing, US President Donald Trump, who treats multilateralism and international cooperation with cherished disdain, will be attending for the first time.

Trump comes to Hamburg having already walked out of one of the key commitments from last year’s summit – to join the Paris climate agreement “as soon as possible.” And he will not have much enthusiasm for these meetings’ habitual exhortation to foreswear protectionism or provide greater assistance to refugees.

Moreover, the Hamburg summit follows two G20 annual meetings in authoritarian countries – Turkey in 2015 and China in 2016 – where protests could be stifled. This year’s summit promises to be an occasion

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Can Macron Pull it Off?

May 9, 2017

CAMBRIDGE – Emmanuel Macron’s victory over Marine Le Pen was much-needed good news for anyone who favors open, liberal democratic societies over their nativist, xenophobic counterparts. But the battle against right-wing populism is far from won.

Le Pen received more than a third of the second-round vote, even though only one party other than her own National Front – Nicolas Dupont-Aignan’s small Debout la France – gave her any backing. And turnout was apparently sharply down from previous presidential elections, indicating a large number of disaffected voters. If Macron fails during the next five years, Le Pen will be back with a vengeance, and nativist populists will gain strength in Europe and elsewhere.

As a candidate, Macron was helped in this age of

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Why Did So Many Cheer Turkey’s Democracy While It Was Dying?

April 25, 2017

Claire Berlinski’s excellent account of the Western (and domestic) observers who cheered on as Turkey was sliding into authoritarianism reminds me of a point I long wanted to make.
There was in Erdogan’s early years some reason to be confused as to what was going on. Was he a Muslim democrat who was essentially the Turkish equivalent of a European Christian Democrat? Or was he an authoritarian at heart who would resort to repression as soon as he had sufficient control?
We know the answer now. But at the time there was perhaps what an economist would call an “observational equivalence” between the two scenarios.
In his early years, Erdogan was not sufficiently secure in power. Remember that as late as 2008, his party barely escaped closure thanks to a very narrow constitutional court decision. The first five years or so of his coming to power were years of transition, from the secular elites to the AKP-Gulenist alliance. During the transition, Erdogan naturally sought allies among the liberals and the West. But beyond that, the transition opened up space for political discussion and debate in ways that had long escaped the country. The old guard’s power was weakening while Erdogan had not yet consolidated his power. The former could not put the lid on the new developments, while the latter was not strong enough (yet) to crush all potential opposition.

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Prudential regulation, capital controls, and second-best

April 20, 2017

A usual argument against the use of capital controls as a prudential measure is that it is always better to tackle problems at their source rather than trying to deal with symptoms.  This is called the principle of economic targeting in Economics, one of the discipline’s most powerful teachings. The problem with indirect remedies is that they create problems themselves, “by-product distortions” in Econ-speak. With capital controls, those would be corruption and the discouragement of trade and other flows that are not necessarily a problem.
Hyun Song Shin essentially relies on this principle when he argues against capital controls (in a speech yesterday in Washington, DC):

The lesson is to distinguish underlying causes from outward symptoms. Yes, the 2008 financial crisis was in large part a cross-border phenomenon, but focusing on capital flows confuses the symptoms (capital flows) from the underlying causes (excess leverage and funding risk). If the problem is excessive bank leverage and funding risk, then address these risks directly with traditional microprudential, or regulatory tools.

This argument always reminds me of opponents’ argument about why gun controls are not needed: “it’s not guns that kill people; it’s people.” The implication is that we should target the criminals and not the guns.

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Trade, redistribution, and social dumping

April 18, 2017

I just saw this response from Joel Trachtman to my column "Too Late To Compensate Free Trade’s Losers." Trachtman argues that "the fundamental problem of winners and losers will not be solved by these changes."
I do not disagree. But the fundamental political problem with trade is not there are winners and losers — the domestic market generates much greater job churn and dislocation than trade does. It is that it generates unfair redistribution, or at least redistribution that can be legitimately perceived as unfair, when goods cross jurisdictional boundaries.
As I explain here:

It’s important to distinguish between two versions of an argument as to why trade may be problematic from a social or political perspective.

Some suggest trade is problematic because it redistributes income. The basis for that claim is true, but trivial. Pretty much everything else that happens in a market economy somehow redistributes income. Technology and market competition are the sources of endless churns in an economy. Moreover, plenty of other things, including skill-biased innovation and minimum-wage laws, have vastly greater effects on income distribution than trade.

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Dismal thoughts about the Turkish referendum

April 17, 2017

I don’t write a lot on Turkey these days. (My latest piece was published last September. It was on Erdogan’s missed opportunities to enter history books as a truly great leader, rather than the corrupt tyrant he seems destined for.) It’s partly because the subject is too depressing: try hard as I might, I really cannot find a good scenario developing over the years ahead.
It’s also because conventional wisdom has so thoroughly converged on what I have been saying since I first began to write on Turkey’s politics in 2010. For a few years, I was a relatively lonely voice in a Western media landscape full of cheerleading for Erdogan and his then-allies, the Gulenists.  (Sorry pundits, I wrote my “Turkey’s Democracy is Dead” piece seven years ago, back in June 2010!) I don’t see much to be gained today by repeating what everyone else is saying about the abysmal state of Turkey’s democracy and rule of law.
I do think a lot about Turkey, mostly about whether there was another path.

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Too Late to Compensate Free Trade’s Losers

April 11, 2017

CAMBRIDGE – It appears that a new consensus has taken hold these days among the world’s business and policy elites about how to address the anti-globalization backlash that populists such as Donald Trump have so ably exploited. Gone are the confident assertions that globalization benefits everyone: we must, the elites now concede, accept that globalization produces both winners and losers. But the correct response is not to halt or reverse globalization; it is to ensure that the losers are compensated.

The new consensus is stated succinctly by Nouriel Roubini: the backlash against globalization “can be contained and managed through policies that compensate workers for its collateral damage and costs,” he argues. “Only by enacting such policies will globalization’s losers begin to think that they may eventually join the ranks of its winners.”

This argument seems to make eminent sense, both economically and politically. Economists have long known that trade liberalization causes income redistribution and absolute losses for some groups, even as it enlarges a country’s overall economic pie. Therefore, trade deals unambiguously enhance national wellbeing only to the extent that winners compensate losers. Compensation also ensures support for trade openness from broader constituencies and should be good politics.

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How Much Europe Can Europe Tolerate?

March 14, 2017

CAMBRIDGE – This month the European Union will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its founding treaty, the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community. There certainly is much to celebrate. After centuries of war, upheaval, and mass killings, Europe is peaceful and democratic. The EU has brought 11 former Soviet-bloc countries into its fold, successfully guiding their post-communist transitions. And, in an age of inequality, EU member countries exhibit the lowest income gaps anywhere in the world.

But these are past achievements. Today, the Union is mired in a deep existential crisis, and its future is very much in doubt. The symptoms are everywhere: Brexit, crushing levels of youth unemployment in Greece and Spain, debt and stagnation in Italy, the rise of populist movements, and a backlash against immigrants and the euro. They all point to the need for a major overhaul of Europe’s institutions.

So a new white paper on the future of Europe by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker comes none too soon. Juncker sets out five possible paths: carrying on with the current agenda, focusing just on the single market, allowing some countries to move faster than others toward integration, narrowing down the agenda, and pushing ambitiously for uniform and more complete integration.

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Ariel Rubinstein on Economics Rules

March 13, 2017

The great Ariel Rubinstein has a review of my book Economics Rules in the latest issue of the Journal of Economic Literature. It is a fun review – gratifying for me because Ariel agrees with many of my arguments – and it has a deeply personal, even emotional, feel to it. Ariel feels strongly about the turn the profession has taken, and agree or not, the essay makes for a very interesting read.
The review took me back to my graduate-student days at Princeton. The place had a very strong crop of theorists among the graduate students, and I used to hang out with them a lot. I am not sure quite why, since what I did was very different from what they did. But they were the most fun bunch in Princeton at the time. I have fun memories of many a drunken night at the Annex – the student bar long since gone.
I remember distinctly our contrasting attitudes to Economics. The theorists had it all together; they knew what they were doing and had few questions about methods or approach. By contrast, I was full of doubt and uncertainty: What was I doing in Economics? Did Economics really help answer any of the big questions? How would we know?
At one of our gatherings, I tried to voice some concerns about economic methodology. One of the theorists impatiently brushed me off. “Why do you bother with methodology,” he asked. “It’s a waste of time. Do your work.

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A Foreword to Kari Polanyi Levitt

March 8, 2017

I was recently asked to write a foreword to the Mexican edition of Kari Polanyi Levitt’s From the Great Transformation to the Great Financialization. Kari is Karl Polanyi’s daughter, and the essays in her book — part memoir, part intellectual history, part analysis of the global economy — provide a wonderful Polanyi-esque perspective on our day. I happily accepted, and my Foreword is below.
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I first encountered Karl Polanyi as an undergraduate, in a course on comparative politics. “The Great Transformation” was on the course syllabus, sitting somewhat awkwardly amidst more standard political science fare. The assigned reading, on the Speenhamland system and the reform of the Poor Laws in Britain made little impression on me at first. But over the years, I found myself coming back to the central arguments of the book: the embeddedness of a market economy in a broader set of social arrangements, the rejection of an autonomous economic sphere, the folly of treating markets as self-stabilizing.
I am lucky that I had been exposed to Polanyi before I became a full-fledged economist. Looking at standard neoclassical fare from the perspective of the Great Transformation kept me alert to the hidden assumptions of economic theory.

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Global Citizens, National Shirkers

February 10, 2017

CAMBRIDGE – Last October, British Prime Minister Theresa May shocked many when she disparaged the idea of global citizenship. “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world,” she said, “you’re a citizen of nowhere.” Her statement was met with derision and alarm in the financial media and among liberal commentators. “The most useful form of citizenship these days,” one analyst lectured her, “is one dedicated not only to the wellbeing of a Berkshire parish, say, but to the planet.” The Economist called it an “illiberal” turn. A scholar accused her of repudiating Enlightenment values and warned of “echoes of 1933” in her speech.

I know what a “global citizen” looks like: I see a perfect specimen every time I pass a mirror. I grew up in one country, live in another, and carry the passports of both. I write on global economics, and my work takes me to far-flung places. I spend more time traveling in other countries than I do within either country that claims me as a citizen. Most of my close colleagues at work are similarly foreign-born. I devour international news, while my local paper remains unopened most weeks. In sports, I have no clue how my home teams are doing, but I am a devoted fan of a football team on the other side of the Atlantic. And yet May’s statement strikes a chord.

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Thinking straight about fair trade

January 27, 2017

In the previous entry, I discussed the real-world distributional effects of trade agreements, in the specific case of NAFTA. Why should we care about such redistribution and how should we deal with it?
It is useful to distinguish between two different versions of an argument as to why trade may be problematic from a social or political perspective.
Trade is problematic because it redistributes income.
Trade is problematic because it violates norms and understandings embodied in our institutional arrangements – it undercuts domestic social bargains.
The first case is no different than a million other things in a market economy that can have distributional implications. It does not in general require that we target trade specifically.
But the second case is different, and may require trade remedies. I associate the valid core of fair-trade or social-dumping concerns with this particular possibility.
I elaborate on this argument here. Here is a teaser:

Economists like to claim that the purpose of free trade is to eliminate barriers that impair the efficient global allocation of resources, while helping some of the world’s poorest people. It’s an argument undermined by a simple thought experiment.

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What did NAFTA really do?

January 26, 2017

Brad De Long has written a lengthy essay that defends NAFTA (and other trade deals) from the charge that they are responsible for the loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. I agree with much that he says – in particular with the points that the decline in manufacturing employment has been a long-term process that predates NAFTA and the China shock and that it is driven mainly by the secular trend of labor-saving technological progress. There is no way you can hold NAFTA responsible for employment de-industrialization in the U.S. or expect that a “better” deal with Mexico will bring those jobs back.
At the same time, the essay leaves me frustrated and uneasy. It seems to gloss over the distributional pain of NAFTA and overstate the overall gains.  
So what does the evidence say on these issues? We have now some good academic papers that address both overall gains and distributional impacts.
Let’s start with the big picture. Remember first that many advocates of NAFTA made at the outset some wildly optimistic claims about what NAFTA was going to achieve. The most extravagant of the studies, and the one that probably was the most widely circulated, was one produced at the Peterson Institute for International Economics (then just the Institute for International Economics). This study argued that NAFTA would be a net job creator for the U.S.

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New results on structural change during the recent growth boom in developing countries

January 23, 2017

The last two decades have been a rare period of rapid convergence for the world’s developing economies. Everyone is familiar with China and India’s experience, but growth went beyond these two large economies. Many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America had their best performance in decades, if not ever.
In a new paper, my co-authors Xinshen Diao (IFPRI) and Margaret McMillan (Tufts and IFPRI) and I examine this experience. We ask what drove this growth and how sustainable is it. Looking at recent growth through the lens of structural change proves particularly insightful.
Here is our decomposition of recent growth accelerations into the within-sector and between-sector terms. The latter term captures the growth contribution of structural change — the reallocation of labor across sectors with different labor productivities.

What stands out in the analysis is that recent growth accelerations were based on either rapid within-sector labor productivity growth (Latin America) or growth-increasing structural change (Africa), but rarely both at the same time. In Latin America, within-sector labor productivity growth has been impressive, but growth-promoting structural change has been very weak.

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Is Global Equality the Enemy of National Equality?

January 22, 2017

The question in the title is perhaps the most important question we confront, and will continue to confront in the years ahead. I discuss my take in this paper.
Many economists tend to be global-egalitarians and believe borders have little significance in evaluations of justice and equity. From this perspective, policies must focus on enhancing income opportunities for the global poor. Political systems, however, are organized around nation states, and create a bias towards domestic-egalitarianism. 
How significant is the tension between these two perspectives? Consider the China "trade shock." Expanding trade with China has aggravated inequality in the United States, while ameliorating global inequality. This is the consequence of the fact that the bulk of global inequality is accounted for by income differences across countries rather than within countries. 
But the China shock is receding and other low-income countries are unlikely to replicate China’s export-oriented industrialization experience. So perhaps the tension is going away?
Not so fast. The tension is even greater somewhere else: Relaxing restrictions on cross-border labor mobility would have an even stronger positive effect on global inequality, at the cost of adverse effects at the lower end of labor markets in rich economies.

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Trump’s Defective Industrial Policy

January 10, 2017

CAMBRIDGE – US President-elect Donald Trump has yet to take office, but his brand of flawed industrial policy has been on full display since his surprise win in November.

Within weeks of the election, Trump had already claimed a victory. Through a mix of inducements and intimidation, he prevailed on the heating and cooling firm Carrier to keep some of its operations in Indiana, “saving” around 1,000 American jobs. Touring the Carrier plant subsequently, he warned other US firms that he would impose stiff tariffs on them if they moved plants overseas and shipped products back home.

His Twitter account has produced a stream of commentary in the same vein. He has taken credit for Ford’s decision keep a Lincoln plant in Kentucky, rather than move it to Mexico. He has threatened General Motors with import tariffs if it continues to import Chevrolet Cruzes from Mexico instead of making them in the United States.

Trump has also hounded defense contractors for cost overruns, berating the aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin on separate occasions for producing planes that are too expensive.

Trump’s policy style represents a sharp break from that of his predecessors. It is highly personalized and temperamental. It relies on threats and bullying. It is prone to boasting, exaggeration, and lies about actual successes.

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Don’t Cry Over Dead Trade Agreements

December 8, 2016

CAMBRIDGE – The seven decades since the end of World War II were an era of trade agreements. The world’s major economies were in a perpetual state of trade negotiations, concluding two major global multilateral deals: the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the treaty establishing the World Trade Organization. In addition, more than 500 bilateral and regional trade agreements were signed – the vast majority of them since the WTO replaced the GATT in 1995.

The populist revolts of 2016 will almost certainly put an end to this hectic deal-making. While developing countries may pursue smaller trade agreements, the two major deals on the table, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), are as good as dead after the election of Donald Trump as US president.
We should not mourn their passing.

What purpose do trade agreements really serve? The answer would seem obvious: countries negotiate trade agreements to achieve freer trade. But the reality is considerably more complex. It’s not just that today’s trade agreements extend to many other policy areas, such as health and safety regulations, patents and copyrights, capital-account regulations, and investor rights. It’s also unclear whether they really have much to do with free trade.

The standard economic case for trade is a domestic one.

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