Global Economic Governance 2.0

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By Todd Tucker |

I’m pleased to be the newest fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, where my focus will be the ins and outs of global economic governance. I’m especially interested in how international treaties affect domestic law, politics, and economics—and vice versa.

The moment demands big new ideas in this space. From investor-state dispute settlement, to the World Trade Organization, to even our own Supreme Court’s forays into foreign affairs, the manner in which countries integrate has become heavily judicial and less susceptible to normal democratic influence. At the same time, corporations have more choices than ever about where to locate, produce, and incorporate. If they’re willing to “lawyer up,” a U.S. company can become a Swiss company or a Hong Kong company, shopping for the best treaties and protections from governments. Meanwhile, domestic political actors are as suspicious as ever about foreign entanglements and actors. How these trends get reconciled (or not) will shape the course of the 21st century.

Some have called this domestic-global impasse global “gridlock,” a regime complex, or “G-Zero” (where no country dominates decision-making). We need more scholarly attention and systematic policy work drawing out the domestic implications of the global economic governance system, and in particular its judicialized parts. That’s what I hope to do here.

How This Work Fits in with Roosevelt’s Mission

The Institute is all about furthering and updating the legacy of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt for the 21st century. This is an opportune time to be parsing how that legacy can help us navigate modern global governance challenges. As in FDR’s time, global finance wrecked the planet, developing countries are flexing their developmental muscle, and the U.S. has to figure out its place in all of this.

My work will be motivated by several principles:

1. Evidence and intelligibility matter. A lot of debate about global economic governance takes place under the shadow of votes pending in Congress right now. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is just the latest example. I’ll be complementing that by taking a broader view and thinking through the thorny empirical problems that sometimes get lost in the political scuffle. In particular, governments have established literally thousands of trade, investment, and tax treaties over the last several decades. We now have tons of data on the lived experience of these systems, and more being generated every day. I’ll aim to translate that data out of technocratic silos and into plain (or plainer!) English.

2. Questions matter. Our global economic governance system gives rights to business and property owners that it doesn’t to communities, labor groups, and other interests. Is this asymmetry of power inherently objectionable on normative grounds? Does it matter on empirical grounds? What about those arguments that our legacy trade policy is necessary for foreign policy and business success? I won’t shy away from asking questions, including ones I don’t have immediate answers for.

3. Legitimacy matters. Early in the 20th century, Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis recognized that judges are among the most consequential policymakers, but that they often ignore social science data and the political context in which they operate. Indeed, after years of blocking New Deal policy, Brandeis helped the Supreme Court usher in a new era of deference to elected officials and experts (with a small assist from FDR’s court-packing plan!). It is therefore unsurprising that liberal internationalists like Woodrow Wilson and FDR were cautious about putting lawyers and judges in charge of international institutions. Today, we have a plethora of international “courts” (with acronyms like ISDS and WTO) that operate at a remove from communities and non-legal experts. I will look at what if any consequences this gap has for these courts’ legitimacy, and what that experience can tell us about pushing a progressive international agenda on problems like climate change, tax avoidance, and corporate governance.

4. Balance matters. Throughout U.S. history, our greatest political thinkers and doers have been concerned with how concentration of power affects the substance of policy. The musical Hamilton brilliantly captures how our founding fathers both worried about concentration of executive power and exploited it to develop the country. Would the king, or a king-like figure, always make the last call? In today’s global economy, court-like actors make the authoritative pronouncements on many questions that matter for environmental sustainability, global finance, and other important issues. Is this an unchecked form of judicial supremacy, or a needed check on nationalism? Is it a necessary device to coordinate foreign policy between countries, or a tangled and internally contradictory legal web? I will look at the role of national executives, legislatures, courts, and even market actors in checking the power of transnational institutions, and vice versa.

In the weeks to come, I’ll be looking at the takeaways from recent legal challenges against public health legislation, debt crises, and more. To find out more about my work, check out my Roosevelt Institute page and my personal blog, and follow me on Twitter @toddntucker.

Todd N. Tucker is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. His interests revolve around global economic governance, including dispute settlement and the domestic regulatory implications of international trade, investment, and tax treaties.