Hillary Clinton has some generally sensible things to say on trade in today's FT, for which Clive Crook takes her to task. Basically, Hillary's point is that we need to take a breather from negotiating trade agreements on the accepted model, and think our way through what a new set of trade relationships might look like for the 21st century.
[W]hat I have called for is a time-out which is really a review of existing trade agreements and where they are benefiting our workers and our economy and where the provision should be strengthened to benefit the rising standards of living across the world and I also want to have a more comprehensive and thoughtful trade policy for the 21st century. There is nothing protectionist about this. It is a responsible course. The alternative is simply to pick up where President Bush left off and that’s not an option.
Clive Crook thinks this is all misguided and reflects a tendency for the democrats to jettison multilateralism in favor of unilateral (read protectionist) trade policies.
I would agree with Clive that giving up multilateralism would be a bad idea. But I read Hillary's interview differently, as an argument in favor of a renewed set of multilateral rules. What she seems to be saying is: let's focus our energies on making sure we have a better set of (multilateral) rules, commanding greater legitimacy, instead of pushing for continued market-access through traditional trade agreements.
As such, this is quite a defensible argument, in fact much more so than business-as-usual. The real risk facing globalization today is not that markets are not open enough, but that the political support for the existing set of rules is eroding to the point where it becomes difficult to maintain the openness we have. It is a far better use of political capital to bring those rules into conformity with ordinary voters' sense of what is fair than it is to negotiate one market-access expanding agreement over another.
The economic gains from the existing strategy are meager; the economic costs of not pursing the legitimacy-enhancing strategy are huge. This is the trade-off globalization's cheerleaders are overlooking.
UPDATE: And this whole thing about what Paul Samuelson said and meant and whose position it provides support for is such a red-herring. Hillary should not have brought up Samuelson, but I wish her critics would stick to the issues instead of chiding her for using his name in support.