Monday, September 13, 2004

On free trade, Bush > Kerry

Juan Non-Volokh graciously expounds (you may have to scroll down) on Jagdish Bhagwati's piece in today's WSJ for those of us incapable or too lazy get our hands on a copy of the WSJ (print edition). Bhagwati argues that Bush will be better for free trade than Kerry because essentially (1) Kerry would have to back up his protectionist rhetoric (Exhibit A: decrying outsourcing; Exhibit B: promising to "review" all existing U.S. trade treaties) at least to the extent necessary to molify his protectionist supporters (including many unions), and (2) Bush's protectionist measures were enacted to mollify his protectionist supporters, but in a second term Bush would be free to stick to principle.

I agree with (1), but not (2). Look at Bush's Convention speech. What were his exact words? "...free and fair trade." Bush is still pandering to protectionists, just less so than Kerry. I expect a second Bush administration would continue to do good things like work hard on to make the Doha round succeed, make FTAA a reality, and maybe even significantly reduce some our import barriers in the process. I also expect things like anti-dumping laws would be invoked just as much as they have been by the current administration. After all, Bush is a politician, and he has enacted many of his reforms by generously using taxpayer dollars to buy a winning coalition in Congress.

Overall, I think Bush will be somewhat better than Kerry on trade, but it's a matter of degree, not of kind. Besides, the president is just one player in the game of trade policy, which involves Congress and other national governments.

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