Debating The Bush Economic Record: Rebuilding the National Consensus on Trade

This is an important time for the cause of open markets and trade liberalization. The current round of global trade negotiations, the Doha Round, has collapsed; and we will soon learn whether the Administration and other leaders can restart them.   As British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown wrote recently,  ” … the world economy faces an uncertain autumn … (from )not only the impact of terrorism and geopolitical uncertainty on our economies, but also a surge of protectionism.”  Brown also yesterday called for the restarting of Doha at a meeting in Singapore in the coming months.

On this side of the Atlantic, Brown’s warning should have the distinct ring of truth.  Pascal Lammy might have said this week that he is hopeful for a re-start, but there is little sign that the current administration will expend much political capital making this happen. More worryingly, The Times yesterday ran a timely piece arguing that the size of Bush’s trade deficit is a threat to growth not just in America, but for the rest of the world too.

In the wake of five years of accelerating globalization during which American wages have stalled and job creation has slowed, the national consensus to continue to liberalize trade –one that has held fast for more than fifty years -- is in danger of unraveling,   To rebuild that consensus, we need a clear vision, strong leadership and a serious program to ensure that working Americans benefit as much from globalization as American businesses.

For the past half century, open trade has been a crucial part of the formula for global peace and prosperity; and  America’s greatest leaders have maintained a broad, bipartisan consensus against protectionism. FDR and Harry Truman created the architecture for an open post-war system. JFK launched the modern series of multilateral trade talks.  President Reagan began the Uruguay Round and the NAFTA negotiations – and President Clinton enacted both with bipartisan support.

President Bush has failed to show any comparable leadership through the Doha Round and his broader economic policies.  Whatever we do, globalization is not going away or even slowing down. As FDR, Harry Truman, JFK and Bill Clinton all understood, liberal trade and globalization are ultimately progressive causes.  Progressive need to rebuild the national consensus for trade and globalization with a new program that will ensure that all Americans can benefit from both.