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Anti-protection: Changing Forces in United States Trade Politics.

Anti-protection: Changing Forces in United States Trade Politics. By I.M. Destler and John S. Odell, assisted by Kimberly Ann Elliott. Washington, Institute for International Economics, 1987. $10, paper.

American proponents of open international trade have felt much put upon in the 1980's. The simultaneous appearance of widespread unemployment and massive trade deficits in the United States have created growing sentiment for protection. While the steel and auto industries have been perhaps the most successful in obtaining help, industries as widespread as textiles, motorcycles, and microchips have also sought intervention. Internationalists, a party to which I. M. Destler and John Odell certainly belong, fear that these few can jeopardize the many's gain from trade, because a well-defined special interest in protection creates more incentive to political action than the diffuse interests of consumers. As an antidote, Anti-protection seeks to identify interest groups that may be injured by sanctions against foreign trade and mobilize them for political action.

The technique is simple: mobilize by example. The book is a catalog of efforts by interest groups to influence the legislative and executive branches to deny import relief in 14 specific cases. Enough successful coalitions are identified to suggest that political action can prevent or dilute specific acts of protectionism that may harm a particular group's interests.

While I believe that such political mobilization is Destler and Odell's true goal, they have presented it in the context of a scholarly monograph. As they suggest, it is perhaps the first piece of serious political science addressing antiprotection activity, and it is complete with quantification, nonparametric statistical analysis, and even a bit of econometrics. But, it is in exactly these areas that their efforts fall short. The quantifications are exceedingly crude; scales of antiprotection activity are created using a totally arbitrary and subjective weighting scheme, Why, for instance, should four congressional hearings be worth six points when one such appearance is worth four? The statistical analysis purporting to establish a causal link between political activity and policy outcomes is based on a sample of a mere 14 cases and does not report levels of significance. The econometric work on the determinants of antiprotection activity is a slapdash application of a sophisticated technique. The findings, as the authors tacitly admit, are quite likely the result of misspecified models. In one case, for example, the model "explained" just over 16 percent of the observed variation in political activity of 95 importers and found that trade dependence was an insignificant influence on their behavior.

Their substantive findings, on the other hand, are interesting enough to be of value without statistical technicality. These findings were: (1) Those who participate most in antiprotection politics are not consumers but the special interests that benefit most from the specific trade that would be inhibited. (2) A sharp increase in political activity opposing product-specific protection occurred over the decade ended in 1986. (3) The extent of a group's antiprotection activity is conditioned by its dependence on the specific item to be restricted and the probability the protection will be granted if not opposed. (4) Anti-protection activity matters.

I am surprised that Destler and Odell thought it useful or necessary to bring to bear the full statistical armory of the social scientist on these issues. If they intended to give their findings extra credibility, they are not convincing for the reasons outlined earlier. If their aim was mobilization, they might have simply expanded on selected cases with an eye toward identifying specific political techniques useful to antiprotection coalitions. As it stands, they do neither well. Indeed, the quantitative aspects of the paper may very easily turn away the very audience they sought to mobilize.

Criticism is part of Destler and Odell's burden for being out in front of this issue, and it would be unfair of me not to make some specific suggestions for improvement. First, several classes of cases the authors excluded from their analysis might be included: rejected escape clause petitions at the International Trade Commission, administratively decided trade cases from the Commerce Department, and, especially, legislative initiatives that the in congressional committee. These are, at their heart, political proceedings, and their inclusion would bring the number of cases in the statistical analysis closer to an acceptable level. Second, the measures of political activity might include participation in political action committees and campaign financing. Data are available at the Federal Election Commission and are in dollars, a convenient scaling device. Third, when, as the authors' frankly admit, "received theory on these phenomena is quite weak," effort should be directed toward improving the theory before, or even rather than, conducting unconvincing empirical tests.

-RICHARD M. DEVENS, JR. Division of Labor Force Statistics Bureau of Labor Statistics

Publications received

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Economic growth and development

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Health and safety

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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Personnel for

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Productivity and technological change

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Welfare programs and social insurance

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Worker training and development

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Author:Devens, Richard M., Jr.
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1988
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