Must-Read: Simon Wren-Lewis: Understanding Free Trade: "There you have, in one calm and measured paragraph, the contradiction at the heart of the argument...

...put forward by Liam Fox and others that leaving the EU will allow the UK to become a ‘champion of free trade’. You cannot be a champion of free trade, and have sovereignty in the form of taking back control. It is not a contradiction, of course, if you are happy to accept the regulatory standards of the US, China or India. That appears to be the position of Leave leaders like MP Jacob Rees Mogg. Ellie Mae O’Hagan spells out what this may mean in practice. Lead in toys--bring them in so we can sign a trade agreement with China. And you can be sure that this will be the nature of the discussion every time a trade deal is signed. In each case we will be told that we have to accept this drop in regulatory standards, because British export jobs are on the line.

This is the point of Dani Rodrik’s famous impossible trilemma: you cannot have all three of the nation state, democratic politics and deep economic integration (aka free trade). His trilemma replaces sovereignty, by which in meant in this context the nation state being able to do what it likes, by democracy. In the past I have always found this problematic. Surely a democracy can decide to give away a bit of its sovereignty in return for the benefits of international cooperation (in the form of trade deals, or indeed any other kind of international cooperation). After all, every adult in a relationship knows that this relationship means certain restrictions on doing just what they would like...

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