Free Trade for the Tillerson
By David Henderson
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.”
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.