Must-read: Dani Rodrik: “More on the Political Trilemma of the Global Economy”

Must-Read: I find myself more on Martin Sandbu’s side than that of the very-sharp Dani Rodrik in this debate. This is largely, I think, because Dani remains at too abstract a level. The commitment of foreign trading partners to “openness”, whatever that turns out to mean in practice, enlarges domestic political and economic opportunities in some directions. But one’s own government’s reciprocal commitment to “openness”, whatever that turns out to mean in practice, restricts domestic political and economic opportunities in different directions. How much should a government and a people value the gains in the first set of directions? How much should a government and a people regret the loss in the second set?

These are questions that must be answered pragmatically. The devil is in the details. And ideologies–either Friedmanesque rants that globalization is always good or Trumpist rants that “we” are always outmaneuvred in trade deals by shifty foreigners–seem to me profoundly unhelpful here. And so the word “globalization” becomes an obstacle rather than an aid to thought…

Dani Rodrik: More on the Political Trilemma of the Global Economy: “Here are [Martin] Sandbu’s main points and my take on them…

…”if economic integration limits a national democracy’s room for manoeuvre, does it limit a national dictatorship’s opportunities any less?” I think Sandbu’s point is true for some dictatorships, but not all. Today the prevailing worry of progressives is that an oligarchy of financiers, investors, and skilled professionals has captured the polity and is using globalization as a way of imposing its policy priorities. What globalization does for these groups is actually to expand their political opportunities, rather than constrain them…. [In] a democracy… the electorate can decide on their own path… even when it may conflict what a narrowly based, internationally mobile elite want–and that is what hyper-globalization restricts….

“We should beware of conflating economic integration with technocracy.”… In practice, globalization is used to impose a particular technocratic set of rules serving the interests of particular groups. That it need not do so is a valid point for globalization in general, as long as don’t take it as far as hyper-globalization….

“Is [there] necessarily a loss of democracy when the rules are set internationally while most democratic institutions remain nationally rooted[?]… Negotiating rules together is an exercise of national self-determination, not its abrogation.”… As long as we are not trying to eliminate every transaction cost to international trade and investment, there are multiple models of globalization… leaving plenty of space for countries to devise their own social and economic arrangements….

The fact that an international rule is negotiated and accepted by a democratically elected government does not inherently make that rule democratically legitimate…. There are many ways in which globalization actually harms rather than enhances the quality of democratic deliberation. For example, preferential or multilateral trade agreements are often simply voted up or down in national parliaments with little discussion, simply because they are international agreements. Globalization-enhancing global rules and democracy-enhancing global rules may have some overlap; but they are not one and the same thing…. International commitments can be used to tie the hands of governments in both democratically legitimate and illegitimate ways…. The constraints really bind in the presence of a hyper-globalization/deep-integration model (a la Eurozone)…

March 20, 2016


Brad DeLong
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