Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Dani Rodrik writes that today's brand of trade agreement has little to do with economic theory as opposed to political power:
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.

When trade agreements were largely about import tariffs, negotiated exchange of market access generally produced lower import barriers – an example of the benefits of lobbies acting as counterweights to one another. But there are certainly plenty of examples of international collusion among special interests as well. The WTO’s prohibition on export subsidies has no real economic rationale, as I have already noted. The rules on anti-dumping are similarly explicitly protectionist in intent. 

Such perverse cases have proliferated more recently. Newer trade agreements incorporate rules on “intellectual property,” capital flows, and investment protections that are mainly designed to generate and preserve profits for financial institutions and multinational enterprises at the expense of other legitimate policy goals. These rules provide special protections to foreign investors that often come into conflict with public health or environmental regulations. They make it harder for developing countries to access technology, manage volatile capital flows, and diversify their economies through industrial policies. 

Trade policies driven by domestic political lobbying and special interests are beggar-thyself policies. They may have beggar-thy-neighbor consequences, but that is not their motive. They reflect power asymmetries and political failures within societies. International trade agreements can contribute only in limited ways to remedying such domestic political failures, and sometimes they aggravate those failures. Addressing beggar-thyself policies requires improving domestic governance, not establishing international rules. 
- The Star rightly argues that Canada can't claim to have a plan to meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets without actually doing the math as to how to get there.

- Lynell Anderson, Morna Ballantyne, Martha Friendly set out a plan for a national child care system - though unfortunately there's no indication that the federal government has any interest in putting the idea into action. 

- Paul Dechene highlights the disingenuousness of Brad Wall's Twitter tantrums. And David Climenhaga spreads the word about Wall's Bradsplaining, while noting that Brad Trost is exhibiting exactly the same tendencies.

- Finally, Tara Katrusiak Baran discusses the dangers of threatening violence and suppression based on political disagreement - while pointing out that economic anxiety is no excuse for dehumanizing our fellow citizens. And Danny Quah and Kishore Mahbubani theorize that the rise of the authoritarian right has more to do with a perceived loss of control than with any economic factors.


  1. Sub-Boreal2:36 p.m.

    Re: "Bradsplaining", and with apologies to Thomas Frank: what's the matter with Saskatchewan?

    For decades your province acted as the de facto moral centre of Canadian public life. Now, it’s just the grumpy old man of Confederation, yelling at the neighbourhood kids to get off his lawn.

    Observing from a distance, and with few personal connections to SK, this has been puzzling and sad to watch. But, it’s important to understand why good provinces go bad, for the sake of all of the country. So I hope that an astute analyst / historian / social pathologist will get to work on this.

    1. The irony is that Wall was first elected primarily for putting a happy, polished face on standard-issue right-wing politics. But it's certainly bizarre that public perceptions haven't changed to keep up with his new persona as Perpetually Angry Brad.