NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

What Does the Political Economy Literature on Trade Policy (Not) Tell UsThat We Ought To Know?

Dani Rodrik

NBER Working Paper No. 4870
Issued in September 1994
NBER Program(s):   ITI

Three questions lie at the core of the large and distinguished literature on the political economy of trade policy. First, why is international trade not free? Second, why are trade policies universally biased against (rather than in favor of) trade? Third, what are the determinants of the variation in protection levels across industries, countries, and institutional contexts? These questions are handled only imperfectly by the existing literature. Current models treat trade policy as a redistributive tool, but do not explain why it emerges in political equilibrium in preference over more direct policy instruments. Further, existing models do not generate a bias against trade, implying that pro-trade interventions are as likely as trade-restricting interventions. The greatest contribution of the political economy literature may lie in developing a better grasp of normative economic analysis--that is, in helping design policies, rules, and institutions.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w4870

Published: "The Political Economy of Trade Policy," 1996, in G. Grossman and K.Rogoff,eds., Handbook of International Economics, Vol. III, North-Holland, Amsterdam.

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