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Professor Douglas Irwin (above) said students should be aware of Cordell Hull and his influence on U.S. trade policy.

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Panelists Discuss Global Trade at Politics and Economics Symposium

November 14, 2017

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Middlebury College hosted economists from Dartmouth, Penn, and Yale to speak on the subject of “The United States and Global Trade: Winners, Losers, and the Way Forward” during the sixth annual International Politics and Economics Symposium on November 10, 2017. 

Middlebury’s Knox Professor of International Studies and Vice President of Academic Affairs/Dean of Schools Jeffrey Cason opened the conference and said the study of trade in a global context is of crucial importance to both economists and political scientists.

“Trade is perhaps the perfect topic for a symposium that wants to cross borders between economics and politics. Of all the international, financial, and economic linkages that we study, trade is perhaps the most political of them all,” Cason explained. “Trade affects local communities. Changes in trade patterns influence development in a big way.

“And,” Cason continued, “Donald Trump won the presidential election last year by arguing in part that he’d be tough on trade, even if what he proposed might have been ridiculous and unrealistic, it certainly played a big role in his campaign. Trade continues to be a potent and salient issue; politics and economics meet nicely in the trade space.”

With the conference room at the Robert A. Jones ’59 House filled to capacity with students and faculty, each of the afternoon’s three speakers addressed a facet of U.S. trade in an international context and answered questions afterward.

Douglas Irwin, the John French professor of economics at Dartmouth College, discussed “Protectionism and Economic Populism: Lessons from U.S. History,” and said the history of American trade policy has not been “a left-right issue” or a Republican vs. Democrat issue, but an “open trade vs. closed trade issue.” Irwin views U.S. trade policy as being reflective of three distinct eras that he defines as: Revenue (1789-1860), Restriction (1860-1934), and Reciprocity (1934-the present).

Irwin, whose new book Clashing over Commerce: A History of U.S. Trade Policy (University of Chicago Press, 2017) was just released, highlighted the role that former Secretary of State Cordell Hull (1933-1944) played in reducing the barriers to free trade.

“Do you know who Cordell Hull was?” Irwin asked. “You should. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945 for his efforts to free world trade. Hull helped usher in legislation that gave power to the president to negotiate with other countries to reduce costly trade barriers, and it led to something called the GATT” – the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which was the first worldwide multilateral free trade agreement.

Irwin pointed out that in 1947, President Harry S. Truman said the objectives of peace and freedom “are bound up completely with a third objective, the reestablishment of world trade. In fact, the three – peace, freedom, and world trade – are inseparable. The grave lessons of the past have proved it.”

A former member of the board of governors of the Federal Reserve System, Irwin concluded with a discussion of the “Trump effect” on world trade and opined that it is not unusual for trade policy to be a source of political conflict in the United States. He said “vested interests” in this country make it difficult to change trade policies: “Free trade is hard to dislodge in the U.S. because there are so many special interests behind it.” (Watch a video of Professor Irwin's presentation.)

The next presenter was Edward Mansfield, the Hum Rosen professor of political science and director of the Christopher H. Browne Center for International Politics at the University of Pennsylvania. He spoke on the subject of “American Attitudes toward Trade.” (Watch a video of Professor Mansfield's presentation.)

Peter K. Schott, the Juan Trippe professor of international economics at Yale University, gave the third presentation at the symposium and spoke about “The Distributional Implications of Trade Liberalization.” (Watch a video of Professor Schott's presentation.)

The sixth annual IP&E Symposium was sponsored by the Department of Political Science, Department of Economics, Program in International Politics & Economics, Jones Economics Enrichment Fund, Office of the Provost, and Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs.


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