One of the basic claims I make as a poli sci professor is that my goal is to help the next generation become more informed citizens, so that they understand their interests, and can vote accordingly.  So, when I see a a guy getting upset that his business is hurt by tariffs, I want to scream.

I didn’t spend a lot of time on International Political Economy in my Intro class (I don’t teach it anymore as my Carleton course load is purely grad student stuff, but I miss it–twas a fun class to teach).  IPE is not my strength, but I did get the basics across:

  • free trade is the story of concentrated pain and diffuse benefits: that consumers benefit but not obviously so by lower trade barriers but less competitive sectors get hit hard.  And politics often means that smaller groups actually have louder voices because they can organize.  Hard to organize all consumers to care a lot about paying too much for their sugar.
  • reciprocity is a thing.  It can lead to cooperation or conflict, as the strategy of responding to what the other country did can lead to gains over the long term or unending rivalry.  The key: don’t expect your nasty moves to go unpunished.
  • finally, I basically sold them Helen Milner*: that because many firms rely on exports or rely on importing components, they will not want tariffs as they hurt their sales abroad (due to retaliation) and they hurt their sales at home because their stuff gets more expensive since they have to build the cost of higher inputs, as the tariffs are indeed a tax they must pay stuff they import, into the price of their goods.

So, anyone taking my Intro to IR class would know that a politician promising to raise barriers to trade would be bad to vote for if one had a job that depended on either using foreign components (which is very, very common especially in the auto industry) or selling abroad (which would include most bigtime farming such as soybeans).  Of course, the Americanists will tell me that people don’t vote their interests, and it was more important to people that they get a President who fight immigration even if it was not a threat or to support their values even if he didn’t live by them, etc.

Thus, I wish that more Americans had a basic knowledge of International Relations.  They don’t get that in high school civics classes (one reason I avoided that class and happened to discover by accident in college that Poli Sci includes IR).  At the college level, American Politics may be required, but IR?  Probably not.  Too bad.

*  That book is also a great demonstration of how to turn a dissertation into a good book.

This does raise a potential dissertation question: in 2017-18, where were the firms that Milenr would have predicted to be opposed to trade wars?  Did they lobby?  To no effect?