IP&E Symposium Highlights U.S. and Global Trade


While the temperature on Friday Nov. 10 was a brisk 26 degrees and frost covered the ground, the conversation in the conference room at the Robert A. Jones ’59 House certainly warmed up the room and created a lively, rich atmosphere. The International Politics and Economics (IPE) Department hosted its sixth annual symposium, featuring three scholars from universities across the northeast, each delivering separate lectures moderated by a chosen student majoring in IPE.

With the support of the department, Professors Douglas Irwin of Dartmouth College, Edward Mansfield of the University of Pennsylvania and Peter Schott of Yale University came to campus to give short lectures for about 30 minutes each. After each presentation, students, faculty and other community members were invited to ask questions about the topics discussed, with the first question reserved for students, as per tradition. This year’s symposium was titled, “The United States and Global Trade: Winners, Losers and the Way Forward,” and each speaker had his own addition to the conversation topic.

William Pyle, IPE program director and professor of economics, who co-organized the event along with Associate Professor of Political Science Sarah Stroup, introduced the packed audience to the afternoon’s event.

“This is the signature public event of [the] IPE program, when we invite three outside experts to speak to a question of global importance,” he said. Jeffrey Cason, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the schools, continued the introductions, noting that thinking about trade in global context is crucial, especially in today’s political climate.

“Trade is perfect topic for symposium that wants to cross borders between politics and economics,” he said.

Irwin gave the first lecture, titled “Protectionism and Economic Populism: Lessons from US History.” Irwin is the John French Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College and is the author of the recently published, “Clashing over Commerce: A History of U.S. Trade Policy”. Using examples from current politics, he showed that there is a new divide in America regarding opinions on trade that does not revolve around political parties.

“It’s not so much a left-right issue as an open-closed issue,” Irwin said. Drawing on the history of trade policy in the U.S., Irwin suggested that there have been three eras of trade policy: Revenue (1789-1860), during which Congress was given the power to tax; Restriction (1860-1934), during which there was a move to protect American interests; and Reciprocity (1934-present), during which the U.S. encouraged trade. Throughout his lecture on the histories of policy, he concluded that trade has always been a source of domestic political conflict and there has been a renewed partisan conflict in the post-Cold War era and the recent presidential election.

Continuing the conversation,Mansfield gave a presentation on American attitudes toward trade. Mansfield, professor of political science and director of the center for international politics at the University of Pennsylvania, discussed the changing public mood towards U.S. trade policy. Using graphs showing the public’s opinion toward trade and economic models such as the Heckscher-Ohlin and Ricardo Viner models, he explained the various factors towards these fluctuations. In addition to volatile political economy and partisanship, Mansfield mentioned three factors of political psychology: attitudes of isolationism, nationalism and ethnocentrism.

“All three factors play a huge role in what people think about trade and globalization, but people think about [the] international part; they don’t think about the trade part,” he said, showing that the public opinion is based on an individual’s comfort with globalization, rather than a specific opinion on trade policy. Mansfield concluded his presentation with the idea that despite widespread claims that attitudes about trade reflect economic consequences, these attitudes were guided to a much larger extent by isolationism, nationalism and prejudice.

Schott concluded the set of presentations with a lecture titled “The Distributional Implications of Trade Liberalization with China.” Schott is a professor of international economics at the Yale School of Management, and one his most recent projects examines the decline of U.S. manufacturing employment during the 2000s. He recounted a brief history of U.S. manufacturing employment and trade liberalization with China. Schott also linked mortality rates in the U.S. with exposure to trade liberalization, in addition to discussing the decline of manufacturing employment in certain areas of the U.S., such as Appalachia. He finished his presentation with the recommendation to conduct more research into the factors that impede reallocation before policy can be formulated.

Pyle thought the event was a success.

“I was extremely pleased with the audience turnout. The room was full to capacity for all three of the presentations. And the quality of the presentations was uniformly high,” he said. “There’s really so much still we have to learn about how our labor markets respond to shocks, whether those are induced by trade, as was the case when China joined the WTO, or technology. Going forward, we need to understand better as a society how we can do more to spread the gains and alleviate the costs.”

Fusing together politics and economics, this year’s IPE symposium shed light on a topic very relevant to today’s society and political climate.