It’s August. Is anyone surprised that trade talks in Geneva collapsed last week, just in time for a proper vacation, after which the world trade community will have a couple of months to tidy up its collective desktop in anticipation of the US election in November?
As the Financial Times put it, “Like Wimbledon fortnight but without the aesthetic or entertainment value, the annual breakdown of the
Indeed. The negotiation, the first initiative in multi-lateral trade liberalization to have failed since World War II, didn’t even really begin in
What’s going on in the world of international trade? Forget about year-to-year bulletins. Even ten-year swatches of time don’t tell you very much if you imagine that the world might have come to a turning point. To think genuinely august thoughts about what might come next in global trade, step back and ponder events on a grand scale. A couple of recent books come in handy here. Either would make a nice vacation companion, depending on your mood.
Power and Plenty: Trade, War and the Global Economy in the Second Millennium, by Ronald Findlay, of
Bernstein, neurologist, PhD chemist, financial guru, money manager, policy wonk and general all-rounder, is a topic for another day. You can get the flavor of the man and his latest book from his well-attended website, Efficient Frontier.
It is Power and Plenty that has captured my attention. I have not read every word yet, but it seems to me the best book of its sort since David Landes’ Wealth and Poverty of Nations, nearly twenty years ago. It is an item of durable value, 600 elegantly written pages containing some beautiful maps.
I am not, on a summer morning, going to summarize a thousand years of international trade, except to say the authors organize their account around what they say are the three great events of the last thousand years: the Black Death of the fourteenth century; the “discovery” and incorporation of the New World into the Old starting in the sixteenth century; and the Industrial Revolution, beginning in the nineteenth century. Nor should you spend much more of your time here. If you want read the book, read it.
I will say that the dustjacket, with its painting of a naval battle between French and English men-of-war, conveys the book’s takeaway message. The authors write, “The greatest expansions of world trade have tended to come, not from the bloodless tântonnement of some fictional Walrasian auctioneer but from the barrel of a Maxim gun, the edge of a scimitar, or the ferocity of nomadic horsemen.”
Thus successive epochs in global trade have, for the most part, been demarcated by the outbreaks of major wars or imperial expansions: Pax Mongolica, Pax Manchurica, Pax Mughalica, Pax Britannica, Pax Americana. “Each era can be seen as one in which trade is conducted within a geopolitical framework established by the previous major war or conflict, that is in turn altered by the outbreak of the next war, setting the stage for the next epoch, and so on. It is natural to suspect that the accumulating economic and geopolitical tensions unleashed in the course of each period of peace, prosperity and trade culminate in successive rounds of conflict, so that wars, rather than being exogenous or external shocks to the world system, have been inherent in its very nature as it has evolved over the past millennium.”
That’s very far from the concerns for farmers’ shares that scuttled the talks in at World Trade Organization headquarters in
Do you think that the Russians have tied up
That’s the kind of thing that makes Power and Plenty such fun to read. For in the end, a book about trade is a book about geography – about how the human-built world grew up around straits, harbors, rivers, roads, and natural resources. Writers less well-grounded in the interdependence between trade and politics would have been astonished to find the twenty-first century dawn with the United States embroiled in a two wars along the route that Alexander the Great took to India 2300 years before, but not Findlay and O’Rourke. The
The moral of Power and Plenty is that, instead of worrying about the collapse of the Doha Round, friends of trade should be thinking hard about what comes next. The fifty years of the Cold War otherwise had little to recommend it, but at least it imposed a collective discipline on the two major blocs and their client states. In a world of many different blocs, it appears that Pax Americana will be replaced by some new set of stabilizing rules. But what will they be?
That is what makes the next election so interesting. There seems to be widespread agreement that, in the first years of the new century, the leadership of the
I don’t mean the decision to invade
I mean the assault on the principle that there exist basic human rights that must be observed and protected, even in time of war.
Jane Mayer is the former Wall Street Journal reporter who, in thirteen articles in the New Yorker since 2001, has documented the most important details of the behind-the-scenes American response to the 9/11 attacks. In her new book, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals, she concludes by comparing the Bush administration’s panic to President Roosevelt’s internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
To me, that similitude seems too charitable. From Mayer’s account, it appears clear that US leaders in the office of the Vice President and the Justice Department engaged in a fundamental repudiation of the rules for the treatment of non-combatants and prisoners of war hammered out in treaty negotiations over 150 years and collectively known as the Geneva Conventions.
On the strength of reporting by Mayer and others, there is good reason to suspect that that these officials committed what a dispassionate jury would recognize as a series of serious crimes under American law in the years after 2001 – in Iraq, in the “dark prisons” in Europe, in the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
I don’t know whether or not it is necessary that these officials be prosecuted. Probably not: these matters are incredibly devisive. But if the