Free Trade, Free Markets: Rating the 106th Congress

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Despite the advances of globalization, governments around theworld continue to intervene in the flow of goods, services, people,and capital across international borders. This widespreadintervention takes two basic forms: regulatory barriers aimed atdiscouraging certain types of commerce, and government subsidiesaimed at encouraging others.

As a consequence, well-worn labels such as "internationalist"and "isolationist" do not fully capture the policy choiceslawmakers face when deciding international commercial policy. Thechoice is not between engagement and isolation but between the freemarket and all forms of government intervention, includingbarriers, subsidies, and bailouts.

On the basis of their voting records in the 106th Congress,legislators can be classified into four categories: free traders,who oppose both trade barriers and subsidies; internationalists,who oppose barriers and support subsidies; isolationists, whosupport barriers and oppose subsidies; and interventionists, whosupport both barriers and subsidies.

An analysis of voting on 29 key votes in the 106th Congressconfirms that the House leaned toward internationalism, opposingtrade barriers on 63 percent of all votes cast and opposingsubsidies on 22 percent of votes. Only 26 House members opposedbarriers and subsidies on more than two-thirds of the votes theycast.

A near majority of House members, 212, voted asinternationalists, 24 voted as isolationists, and 43 voted asinterventionists. House Republicans were only marginally moreinclined to vote against trade barriers than Democrats, but theywere three times more likely to vote against trade subsidies.

In the Senate, a majority of 60 voted at least two-thirds of thetime against trade barriers. (No votes were recorded on subsidies.)The typical Republican senator voted against barriers 71 percent ofthe time and the typical Democrat 61 percent.

When weighing policy toward the international economy, membersof Congress should support a coherent program to liberalize tradeand eliminate subsidies.

Daniel Griswold

Daniel Griswold is the associate director of the Cato Institute's Center for Trade Policy Studies.