The Making of United States International Economic Policy: Principles, Problems, and Proposals for Reform

By Stephen D. Cohen | Go to book overview

12 The Non-Making of International Economic Policy: The Process in Paralysis, 1996-20??

The whole free-trade thing turned out to be for the big companies, not the little guy.

-- Ricardo Granado

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

-- Charles Dickens

The two dominant themes of U.S. international economic policy in the 50 years after World War II were leadership and promotion of a growing global economy relatively unencumbered by government-imposed barriers. Inertia was the dominant theme in the last half of the 1990s. Whereas previous chapters have described a stream of decisions and actions associated with an activist U.S. policy, this chapter analyzes the uncharacteristic inaction that marked the 1995-1999 period. The inter-branch model of decision-making suffered gridlock. A new strain of multidimensional opposition to any movement towards a more integrated world economy became a factor in nudging governmental activism into a state of hibernation. No assumption about what was "good" policy was safe from revisionist thinking. No longer was there such a thing as a non- controversial international economic legislative proposal that could be enacted amicably and quickly.

It is too early to know whether the massive cracks that recently appeared in the status quo represent a momentary blip while traditional thinking regroups or whether the cracks signal the start of another major turning point in how the United States relates to the world economy. In either case, a study of policymaking is incomplete to the extent that it does not discuss the confluence of

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