what if official US policy were different than either of these
alternatives? What if, preferably as part of a larger reorientation
of US policy around the world, the US government announced that
it would eliminate all tariffs and other barriers to trade between
the US and China, while abjuring any official effort to influence,
pressure, change, shift or "reform" domestic Chinese
policy. In other words, US policy would be full engagement,
with as few barriers as possible, at the level of economic,
social, cultural, tourist-related and personal interchange,
and as little engagement one way or another as possible at the
level of political and diplomatic pressure.
other words, the US would become, as former President John Quincy
Adams famously advocated, "the friend of freedom everywhere
but the guardian only of its own." Economic relationships
would no longer be tied to or controlled by political and military
( i.e., imperial) goals. The US would announce that it recognizes
fully that no regime, including itself, has anything resembling
a perfect record on respecting human rights or promoting human
freedom. Aside from maintaining a sufficient defense to guard
against any imminent threats of invasion or military blackmail
(which might well include a missile defense capability) the
United States would concentrate on protecting and extending
freedom in the United States, being content to serve as an example
to the rest of the world rather than a vocal instructor or military
enforcer of the ideals it claims to hold dear.
seems unlikely that the United States would ever adopt such
a policy. Yet I warrant that the vast majority of ordinary Americans
would prefer it to the present policy of asserting the right
to intervene in whatever country displeases us this week. And
even radical changes in policy do occur over time.
his fascinating and valuable (if sometimes disconcertingly wrongheaded)
survey of the history of the 20th century Jude Wanniski
notes some of the history of the approach to tariffs in the
US this century. The Smoot-Hawley tariffs in 1929 pushed these
taxes to unexpectedly high levels (much higher than in 1913)
and, I believe (though others disagree) were a major factor
in bringing on the Great Depression. They were so punitive that
they blocked a good deal of trade.
policymakers recognized some of the ill effects of such tariffs,
in the late 1930s and early 1940s, they reduced some of them
through the stratagem of "most-favored-nation" exceptions
to them for countries US elites wanted to woo politically or
trade with extensively. Then, beginning with the General Agreement
on Tariff and Trade, (GATT, the precursor of the WTO) the "developed"
countries in the late 1940s announced that their goal was to
reduce tariffs and barriers to almost zero through reciprocal
international agreements. This led to some genuine reductions.
But the language of the Smoot-Hawley regime remained, and those
with whom the US maintained relatively unhampered trade relations
still went by the "most favored nation" moniker, as
if free trade were a benefit reserved only for the politically
the past couple of years, however, Madeleine Albright and other
diplomats have come to use the term "normal trade relations"
to describe the relationship they want with China. To be sure,
their preference is not for genuine free trade but for trade
heavily managed, more often in the service of political ends
than of impartially applied rules, by international bureaucracies
of the enlightened and wise amongst us. But the psychological
shift is underway: relatively unhampered trade is to be seen
as "normal" rather than something reserved for the
will take a long time and in all likelihood the replacement
of most of those who run foreign policy now, along with the
Bushies waiting in the wings before genuinely free trade, with
almost no government control rather than constant government
control, is viewed as "normal." But we could well
be moving in that direction. The Internet and e-money are pushing
us in that direction.
for the thought experiment. In such a regime of free as in free
of government control and management trade, accompanied by a
political policy of non-intervention and war avoidance, what
would become of the moral authority of US critics of human rights
policies and practices in China and elsewhere?
suggest that not only would more private groups which would
be free to organize boycotts and other voluntary forms of economic
pressure become involved in trying to reduce human rights abuses,
but the government (or what remained of it) would have more
credibility. Imagine a US president who would be able to say,
in honesty, something like the following:
you know that we’re not going to start a political crusade or
impose economic sanctions because we’ve determined they are
harmful to our own freedom, which is our highest goal. But I
must say that what is going on in China is utterly deplorable.
Some Americans, as is their right, refuse to do business in
China because of the way the regime represses non-official religions.
I assert no right nor do I have any wish to force the Chinese
to change their policies. We’ll continue to allow trade. But
I urge my associates in the Chinese government to consider not
just how bad such policies make the regime look in the eyes
of decent people throughout the world, but to consider the opportunities
the Chinese people are losing not only by the loss of investment
and trade from foreign businesspeople who are repulsed by repression,
but by keeping the creative and constructive abilities of the
Chinese people in chains."
maintain that it is very possible not guaranteed but possible
that an American president who had renounced political and military
pressure would have enhanced moral authority to make such a
statement. Since he would not be seeking to change policies,
the criticism could not be seen as a justification for new policies
major determinant of the content of criticism could very well
be and perhaps even be generally seen as being the truth rather
than whatever would give the president a temporary advantage
in the constant jousting of great powers. Having given up the
Great Power game, the United States would not only be more influential
as an example, it could very well have more moral authority
than it possesses now.
GUARANTEED BUT NOT VERY RISKY
enhanced moral authority is hardly a sure thing. Different US
presidents might very well have different levels of character
and different images in the world. Some might be respected and
some might be despised. And there is certainly no guarantee
that the Chinese or anybody else would listen to a credible
criticism and decide to straighten up immediately.
might not such a regime be worth a try? I still believe the
vast majority of Americans would prefer to live in a country
that leads by example rather than by force. And the risks of
such a policy, while not invisible, would be relatively minimal.
Yes, there would likely still be aggressors in the world, but
a defense devoted to actual defense rather than to policing
the world should be able to keep most American relatively safe.
As the economy grew as a result of more resources being available
to the constructive sector rather than to the government, as
the country became increasingly decentralized, with pockets
of power dispersed, the costs of invasion or conquest would
of all, however, Americans might have the chance to live in
a country of which they could be unreservedly proud. And the
citizens of any country that adopted similar policies would
have the same opportunity.