Irwin book.jpg

On Monday I attended an outstanding talk at the Hoover Institution given by Dartmouth University economics professor Doug Irwin. He hit some highlights of his recent book, Clashing Over Commerce: A History of U.S. Trade Policy, and also talked at some length about President Trump’s views on trade. Although Doug was, not surprisingly, critical of Trump, he didn’t take any cheap shots. Rather, he, using PowerPoint, showed statements that Trump had made about trade and showed why they didn’t make sense.

The main thing about Trump that I took away from the talk was Trump’s emphasis on the balance of payments deficit as a measure of how good or bad the international trade system is for the United States. I knew that Trump had emphasized that a lot, but I had thought that he would be happy if other countries’ governments were to drop their trade barriers against U.S. products. By the time the talk was over, I agreed with Doug that that would not make Trump happy if, after all the trade barriers were dropped, the balance of payments deficit remained.

And it would remain. The balance of payments deficit is driven mainly by macroeconomic policy, especially fiscal policy.

One further comment: If you ever get a chance to invite Doug to speak (I don’t know his rates) or to attend one of his speeches, do so. On top of being very informative, Doug is close to being a stand-up comedian. He had me literally LOLing about a dozen times. One highlight was when he said that he should do a Muppet version of his book on the history of trade policy. He then showed a PowerPoint slide in which on the left was the late Senator Robert Byrd, who, in 1980, had added a particularly pernicious clause on trade to a bill that wasn’t about trade and on the right was a picture of a Muppet with almost the same expression on his face.

Postscript: This interview of Doug by Tyler Cowen is excellent.