Journal of Law and Policy


Kevin J. Fandl


Trade policy during the Obama Administration largely reflected the pinnacle of the globalist moment in history. The dream of global peace through economic security was on the cusp of being achieved, with a comprehensive set of trade alliances linking countries both economically and politically to one another, a worldwide system of rules which nearly all countries abided in their economic relationships, and a deeply integrated global supply chain that not only enabled companies to satisfy consumer demands at exceedingly low cost and rapid development, but also empowered more and more workers in poor countries to join the global economy. This had been the pursuit of the progressive politicians in the early twentieth century at the start of the modern global era—the liberal world order. All of this began to visibly crumble with the election of Donald Trump in 2016. His promises of cutting ties with trading partners that did not give the United States a fair deal and relinquishing global leadership in exchange for national sovereignty struck a chord with American voters. Voters understood that the institutions we built had failed them in some fashion and saw the America First policies of Mr. Trump as the answer to their economic woes. The economic protectionism that has taken place during the Trump Administration has not been seen since the 1930s, just before the outbreak of World War II. Withdrawal from international institutions, trade wars with friends and foes, immigration bans, and a general disregard for diplomacy, are indicative of America’s withdrawal from the liberal economic order that it built to help the world recover after World War II. The Coronavirus and subsequent global economic collapse hastened the negative economic fallout from these actions; however, the belief that America should go it alone has been rising for decades. In the past, legislators and the executive have exercised restraint, understanding the dramatic effects that a world without U.S. leadership would have on American and global economic growth and peace. With that restraint now gone, we are proceeding at full speed toward the destruction of the liberal world order. In this short paper, I argue that precisely at a moment of crisis like that presented by a global health pandemic, it is the rules-based international order that has the best chance of slowing the slide toward authoritarianism and global recession. My contribution is focused on the economic policies inherent in the liberal world order and how those have guided us toward strong and sustainable economic growth for seventy-five years. Without American leadership at the helm, chances for survival of that order and the economic prosperity that it brought are dim.