We have met the enemy and he is us
JOEL P. TRACHTMAN
Brian Hindley's contribution raises important concerns regarding the utility of multilateral agreements within the WTO covering new subjects, such as environment, labor, competition policy, and investment. He speaks from the standpointofeconomicanalysisandpublicchoiceanalysis, andindicatesthatthere are concerns regarding the conventional justifications for action in these areas. These concerns are substantial, and merit consideration. However, my comments will suggest that Hindley's paper does not lead to a conclusion that multilateral agreements covering these topics would not be useful. I do not make the affirmative argument that they would be useful; I simply show why I am not convinced that they would not.
Public choice analysis and public interest analysis
In discussions of world trade regulation, public choice analysis has strong descriptive resonance. Hindley is correct to point out that it is the actions of governments we are considering. Implicit in this point is that government personnel maximize their own welfare: their choices are not necessarily congruent with the welfare of their constituents. On the other hand, this congruence is a measure of good government, and in substantial respects, of legitimacy. Public choice analysis is strongly descriptive, while public interest analysis is more normative in this context: what set of arrangements would maximize welfare?
In all but the most malevolent dictatorship, public interest is a vector that flows into public choice: that is, government operatives seeking to maximize their own values are either or both (i) public spirited to some extent, so that maximizing public welfare is part of their objective function, or (ii) subject to accountability to some degree, which requires them to be seen to be maximizing public welfare.
While I agree with Hindley that, as a descriptive matter, we must confine our analysis to the actions of governments, and not seek to assess the extent to which those actions reflect their constituents' welfare, I would like to note explicitly that we do so out of methodological modesty, not because these things are unimportant. That is, I recognize, with Hindley, that it is too complex, and perhaps too interventionist, to seek to formulate international policy on the basis of skepticism