It has become a happy tradition for me to write a few words to introduce successive editions of Professor Steve Cohen's text on international economic policy. The substantive challenges seem never-ending, with the speed of globalization and the epidemic of financial crises in recent years underscoring the point. And it all puts pressure on the organizational arrangements that Professor Cohen deals with in this book so extensively, drawing on his long experience as participant and observer.
The words I wrote years ago in introducing the third edition remain relevant:
Questions of international trade and finance are particularly difficult to deal with responsibly as part of the political process. Even more than in most areas of economics, the apparent direct and visible implications or particular actions--such as trade restrictions--on specific firms or industries may be quite different from the ultimate implications for trade, for economic activity, and for employment. The convenient assumption in analyzing an economic policy measure that "all else is held equal" is a particularly thin reed to rely upon in an area where political decisions beget political responses at home or abroad. The sheer complexity and pace of change of international economic life make even technical judgments more difficult. At the other end of the spectrum, questions of foreign policy and national security compete with economic considerations in shaping decisions.
All of that makes more pointed Professor Cohen's long-standing concerns about the policy process and the organization of the federal government for international economic policy. Over the years, intense battles have been endemic within and among the departments of government on precisely those issues. While congressional interest has waxed and waned with changing perceptions of the nation's international economic performance, the sense of policy frustration is clearly rising, and with it the possibility of fresh organizational initiatives.