David R. Henderson  

Free Trade for the Tillerson

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Ralph Raico, RIP... Easy Question Almost All My Pu...

With apologies to Cat Stevens, aka Yusuf Islam.

Rex Tillerson, the former Exxon CEO whom Donald Trump has picked for Secretary of State, has made a lot of comments and taken a lot of positions in favor of free trade. That's not unusual for a Secretary of State. When I was at the Council of Economic Advisers under Martin Feldstein, I read pretty much every memo written by pretty much every senior economist. (The "Weekly Reader" contained all the memos.) The Council was virtually always (I can't think of an exception) on the side of free trade or at least on the side of the freest trade they thought they could get. The senior economist for trade, Geoffrey O. Carliner (see here at p. 153) was regularly writing memos about interagency meetings he was attending on trade issues. Over 80%--and it might have been over 90%--of the time, the State Department was one of the CEA's closest allies. (Also good on free trade were the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget.)

But there is one area on which the State Department has been very bad on trade and that is when it supports sanctions on countries whose governments conduct policies that the U.S. government doesn't like.

Rex Tillerman appears to have a consistent opponent of such sanctions. My antiwar.com colleague Justin Raimondo writes:

Exxon is one of the principal supporters of USA Engage, a business lobby that has for years argued against Iranian and Iraqi sanctions, and that believes in "positively engaging other societies through diplomacy, multilateral cooperation, the presence of American organizations," and that "the best practices of American companies and humanitarian exchanges better advances U.S. objectives than punitive unilateral economic sanctions."

That's refreshing.

Of course, we don't know whether he opposes sanctions on principle or simply because they were bad for his company. For evidence that he takes positions based on self-interest rather than principle, see this.

We shall see. We will also see how well or badly Tillerson controls the worst instincts of his putative deputy, John Bolton.


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CATEGORIES: International Trade




COMMENTS (10 to date)
EB writes:

Tillerson or Tillerman?

Michael Rulle writes:

Tea for the Tillerman

Interesting description of Tillerson's trade views.I am glad to hear about it.

Re: Bolton. For sure he is as an aggressive a neo-con as there is. I see no problem having one of them in the State Department. We tend to have too many salesmen in State. Think of it as Good Cop Bad Cop. Plus he is number 2, because no one in their right mind would ever give him the top spot.

He is more than offset By Mattis in Defense.

Andrew_FL writes:

@Michael Rulle-libertarians really need to stop calling every hawk a neocon. It's really quite historically illiterate and intellectually lazy.

I'm pretty sure Tillerson is not a principled opponent of sanctions, but I'm far more worried that he wants to just let Putin resurrect Imperial Russia than that he won't fight against the status quo on sanctions policy.

E. Harding writes:

Andrew, I do not recommend paranoia in this situation. Does the U.S. control other countries' military spending now?

What are the primary differences between the views of Bolton and the neocons'?

ee writes:

Dave,

The sanctions are targeted. Where do you stand on targeted sanctions vs country-wide sanctions?

What if any response would you have made to the Russian invasion of Ukraine? There are still Russian forces deployed there and there have been ~8k deaths and several thousand more wounded over the life of the conflict.

Do you think Russian hacks of US leaders of both parties and targeted and doctored dumps of the spoils from those hacks should affect the decision to end targeted sanctions?

Andrew_FL writes:

@E. Harding-I don't think I'm going to listen to you tell me not to be "paranoid"

For one thing, the original Neoconservatives were not against institutions like the United Nations, something Bolton has more in common with the Old Right.

Hawkery has existed for all of history, Neoconservativism is a particular variety associated with ex-leftists from the Cold War era. Of course, today's Doves have bastardized the term as if it and Hawk were interchangeable.

Thaomas writes:

Would "positively engaging other societies through diplomacy, multilateral cooperation, the presence of American organizations," and that "the best practices of American companies and humanitarian exchanges better advances U.S. objectives than punitive unilateral economic sanctions"have gotten us the Iran deal?

d clark writes:

So. Free Trade (and is the Free Trade under discussion here a moving target that varies according to trade deals, tariffs, subsidies, etc?) is Untouchable when it comes to furthering America's interests for a more peaceful, prosperous nation?

David R. Henderson writes:

@d clark,
I don’t understand your question. Please word it more clearly.

Neil Wilson writes:

Just a quick note.
Exxon underperformed both the S&P 500 and outer major oil companies, with the exception of BP, during the time Tillerson was CEO.

Just sayin'

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