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Was There a ‘Bush Doctrine’?

That is the question asked by the economists Barry Eichengreen (Berkeley) and Douglas A. Irwin (Dartmouth) in an NBER working paper called “International Economic Policy: Was There a Bush Doctrine?”

When it comes to foreign economic policy, their answer is an emphatic “no.” From their abstract:

While many political scientists and diplomatic historians see the Bush presidency as a distinctive epoch in American foreign policy, we argue that there was no Bush Doctrine in foreign economic policy. The Bush administration sought to advance a free trade agenda but could not avoid the use of protectionist measures at home — just like its predecessors. It foreswore bailouts of financially-distressed developing countries yet ultimately yielded to the perceived necessity of lending assistance — just like its predecessors. Not unlike previous presidents, President Bush also maintained a stance of benign neglect toward the country’s current account deficit. These continuities reflect long-standing structures and deeply embedded interests that the administration found impossible to resist.

And their conclusion:

[P]artisan differences notwithstanding, we still expect continuity to be the rule. The institutions and interests in which the policy-making process is embedded shape outcomes too powerfully for any other forecast to be credible.

Look at that first sentence in the conclusion again: “we still expect continuity to be the rule.” This may come as a disappointment to everyone who is voting in the upcoming presidential election with hopes of wholesale changes.

It’s not like the president doesn’t matter or anything like that; it’s just that — well, um, he/she ends up mattering a lot less than people might like to think.