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Biden’s Modest Multilateralism

Summary:
US President Donald Trump has made international cooperation almost impossible over the last four years. Although President-elect Joe Biden is unlikely to embrace multilateralism as wholeheartedly as presidents before Trump did, the US will at least once again keep its word when dealing with others. CAMBRIDGE – Like the Joni Mitchell song puts it, “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” For example, classroom education was often deemed boring by students and obsolete by tech visionaries. Then, COVID-19 made it difficult or impossible to meet in person. Now we yearn for in-class experiences. America’s Political Crisis and the Way Forward PS OnPoint Elijah

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US President Donald Trump has made international cooperation almost impossible over the last four years. Although President-elect Joe Biden is unlikely to embrace multilateralism as wholeheartedly as presidents before Trump did, the US will at least once again keep its word when dealing with others.

CAMBRIDGE – Like the Joni Mitchell song puts it, “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” For example, classroom education was often deemed boring by students and obsolete by tech visionaries. Then, COVID-19 made it difficult or impossible to meet in person. Now we yearn for in-class experiences.

Perhaps the same is true of international economic cooperation. Multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations agencies have long been unpopular among much of the public for supposedly encroaching on national sovereignty. But then US President Donald Trump came along and made international cooperation well-nigh impossible. While other G20 leaders discussed pandemic preparedness at their recently concluded summit, for example, Trump evidently tweeted more false accusations of electoral fraud and then played golf.

When President-elect Joe Biden enters the White House on January 20, 2021, he will face an urgent agenda of international issues crying out for attention. The top items include the pandemic, climate change, and the global recession, which will require joint action by advanced economies on fiscal stimulus, debt restructuring, and trade.

Biden did not campaign on international economic cooperation per se; US presidential candidates never do. But he has pledged to immediately reverse Trump’s monumentally short-sighted decisions to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization and the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Pandemic diseases such as COVID-19 are a classic example of an international externality that individual governments can’t adequately address on their own. International cooperation is a far more effective way to investigate local disease outbreaks and warn of global dangers; coordinate research, development, production, and...

Jeffrey Frankel
Jeffrey Frankel, a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, previously served as a member of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers. He directs the Program in International Finance and Macroeconomics at the US National Bureau of Economic Research, where he is a member of the Business Cycle Dating Committee, the official US arbiter of recession and recovery.

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