Trade policy is one of the hottest issues of the 2016 election, but throughout the campaign, the level of discussion about it has been abysmally low. This collection is designed to correct that, offering readers everything they need to understand the relevant facts and arguments and make informed decisions for themselves about what should be done in this crucial arena.
The central political fact about trade is that its benefits are generally indirect and diffuse while its costs are often direct and concentrated. All told, the material gains outweigh the material costs, especially over time. But it is hard to realize those gains because the policies required to do so are often blocked by those who stand to lose. Battles over trade policy, therefore, often follow the “double movement” that economic historian Karl Polanyi ascribed to capitalism more generally: the operations of unfettered markets produce economic dynamism and social disruption, which in turn produce a political backlash aimed at stopping or reversing the process.
During the second half of the twentieth century, the advanced industrial world resolved this dialectic through a sort of synthesis, for both trade and capitalism at large: markets would be allowed to spread, domestically and internationally, but they would be checked and regulated by political actors in order to limit or offset their costs. The result was decades of growth and progress.
In recent years, however, opposition to trade has risen once again, to the point where both the Republican and the Democratic candidates for president have now openly declared their opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—the Barack Obama administration’s flagship trade deal, which has been years in the making and still awaits confirmation. And it is now an article of faith for most supporters of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders that preventing further global trade liberalization is crucial to restoring U.S. jobs and prosperity.
We at Foreign Affairs have been covering these debates closely for almost a century, and so we’re delighted to
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