Fall 2020 | Media

Agenda: The Vote that Changed the World

Read the full article on Financial Times’ Agenda (subscription required).


Excerpts from Jonathan M. Baron opinion piece:

Twenty years ago this month, President Bill Clinton signed into law Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with China, inadvertently unleashing the populism that increasingly animates the American electorate today.

The enactment of PNTR with strong bipartisan support resulted in a series of broken promises that have undermined the foundations of American political support for engagement with China. On the eve of this year’s presidential election, regardless of the winner, companies and their boards should prepare for a fundamentally different bilateral trade and security relationship, as well as a transformed U.S. economic policy consensus far less favorable to corporate priorities on taxes, health care and labor.

PNTR serves as the origin story for today’s most prominent populists, who span the ideological spectrum and increasingly find common cause. Among the small group of 15 Senators who voted “Nay” on PNTR were two unlikely allies: legendary conservative Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and model progressive Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minn). Helms and Wellstone were passionate opponents of PNTR and, improbably, joined forces in a desperate and ultimately unsuccessful effort to defeat the measure. Their unusual alliance marked an important moment in the rise of American economic nationalism. Today, President Donald J. Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) best demonstrate the resulting Right-Left synthesis on important aspects of trade, labor and manufacturing policy.

Although far from dominating Washington, D.C., such ideological collaboration has accelerated since the election of Donald Trump and will intensify regardless of who prevails in this November’s election. Areas ripe for further cooperation include antitrust enforcement and constraining “shareholder capitalism” to redress the consequences of PNTR and other neoliberal pro-business policies that a bipartisan coalition blame for undermining the working class.