Economic Sovereignty at Bay

Courtesy Reuters

Thirty-six years ago, the President of the United States observed that the U.S. tariff was "solely a domestic question," a subject inappropriate for international bargaining. This view, archaic as it now may seem, stirred no public outcry, no editorial protest in the nation's leading dailies.

But that was another era.

Today, the commitments among the principal non-communist countries of the world cover the subject of tariffs, import and export licenses, and subsidies; the level of foreign exchange rates and the price of gold; the price and quality of international air service; the price of coffee, wheat, sugar and tin; safety-at-sea standards, deep-sea fishing and whaling rights; and the international use of the ether waves. There is a pooling of foreign-aid funds through the World Bank and various regional banking institutions; a pooling of international technical assistance efforts through numerous U.N. agencies. More important still, through institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Coöperation and Development (OECD) there are well-entrenched habits of international consultation and international persuasion on "domestic" subjects of the most sensitive sort: on internal interest rates, on budgetary and fiscal policy and on employment and incomes policy. And within the European Economic Community and the European Free Trade Association both the commitments and the consultations go deeper still. A decent respect for the opinions of mankind now seems to require a willingness on the part of sovereigns to expose many critical national economic policies to the collective scrutiny of a jury of peers.

To be sure, the millennium is still far distant. Nations still take it for granted that "the vital interests" of any sovereign, as the sovereign perceives them, will take precedence over any international obligation. The fifty or sixty new countries that have erupted out of their colonial status into national independence over the past twenty years especially treasure their sovereign rights to independent action. Still, as far as the advanced countries are concerned, the generalization holds: the pattern

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