Del neoliberalismo al neomercantilismo

Hace 170 años, en 1846, se abolieron en Inglaterra las “leyes del grano”, que gravaban las importaciones de cereales y simbolizaban las políticas mercantilistas imperantes hasta entonces. La decisión supuso, simbólicamente, el triunfo del laissez-faire y del free trade smithniano, y el inicio de una etapa de creciente adopción de las ideas del liberalismo económico clásico. Desde entonces, la batalla entre libre comercio y protección, entre liberalismo económico y otras formas de organización de la actividad económica (desde la estrictamente socialista hasta la keynesiana, pasando por diversos modelos de capitalismo estatal), no ha cesado.

Hoy pocos dudan de que estamos en otro de esos momentos simbólicos, como en 1846, ya que el agotamiento del sistema neoliberal que ha imperado en occidente desde los años ochenta del siglo XX parece querer dar a luz una nueva realidad económica, aunque todavía no se perciban con claridad los rasgos del cambio de paradigma. Lo que sí parece es que el impacto de las ideas que subyacen en modelos neomercantilistas o neoproteccionistas como los adoptados desde hace ya años en algunas partes del mundo (con China a la cabeza) están calando en las políticas económicas de muchos países desarrollados de occidente, y en especial, en aquellos en los que avanzan los movimientos populistas. Estos ven en la globalización –y en la lógica del libre comercio que la alimenta- una amenaza para el bienestar de la ciudadanía y el futuro de la sociedad.

Las reflexiones ante el avance de ese nuevo mercantilismo populista, o como se quiera denominarlo –nacionalismo económico, neoproteccionismo, bilateralismo, etc.-, no han cesado en las últimas semanas, sobre todo tras algunas de las declaraciones sobre política económica del nuevo presidente electo estadounidense. Sólo a modo de ejemplo sirvan algunos comentarios como los que siguen:

-Phil Gramm y Michael Solon (“Understanding the Trump Trade Agenda”), The Wall Sreet Journal:

“If President-elect Trump is to establish a pro-growth trade policy, he must build upon America’s postwar trade history. A lesson from that history is that if trade policy is to reinforce tax reform and regulatory relief in promoting economic growth, it must become more fair, not less free. (…) Industrial policies that seek to reward or punish businesses based on where they invest will impede the recovery or doom it, as will protectionist policies that restrict trade. Wages are stagnant in America today not because we have too few taxes and restrictions on international trade, but because we have too many taxes and restrictions on domestic trade here at home”.

-Michael Spence (“Donald Trump and the New Economic Order”), The Project Syndicate:

“The US will be more reluctant to absorb a disproportionate share of the cost of providing global public goods. While other countries will eventually pick up the slack, there will be a transition period of unknown duration, during which the supply of such goods may decline, potentially undermining stability. For example, the terms of engagement in NATO are likely to be renegotiated. Multilateralism – long enabled by the same sort of asymmetric contribution, though typically proportionate to countries’ income and wealth – will also lose steam, as the trend toward bilateral and regional trade and investment agreements accelerates. Trump is likely to be a leading proponent of this tack; in fact, even regional trade deals may be ruled out, as his opposition to ratifying the 12‐country Trans‐Pacific Partnership suggests”.

-Daniel J. Ikenson (“Trade on Trial, Again”), Cato Institute:

“There was near consensus that the intellectual debate for free trade had been won -in 1776 with publication of The Wealth of Nations. In the 240 years to follow, efforts to poke substantive holes and refute Adam Smith’s treatise failed and, today, nearly all economists agree that free trade, by expanding the size of the market to enable greater specialization and economies of scale, generates more wealth than any system that restricts cross-border exchange. (…)The fundamental mercantilist fallacy about the nature of trade has a nationalistic appeal, where America is some monolithic entity best served by policies that strengthen her stature vis-à-vis some foreign monolith. But trade does not occur between countries. Trade is the culmination of billions of daily transactions pursued by individuals seeking value through exchange”.

-Jeff Colgan (“Donald Trump is an economic nationalist. What’s an economic nationalist?”), The Washington Post:

“Mercantilism and neonationalism have their own problems. Each essentially ignores the way in which the rest of the world will react, presuming that the U.S. will be able to build tariffs and other barriers to trade without other countries retaliating in ways that will hurt U.S. imports or worse. Neither mercantilism nor neo-nationalism can be implemented without causing trade wars between major economies. Trade wars could undermine economic growth and hurt the very people they are supposed to help (to say nothing of the risk that trade wars lead to military wars). Nor does either approach seem capable of dealing with climate change, which is a real global threat that cannot be solved by countries retreating behind their own borders”.

-Hernando de Soto (“The Real Enemy for Trump is Mercantilism, not Globalism”), The Wall Street Journal:

“If America steps away from the world, another leader will emerge. Chinese President Xi Jinping was more than happy to tell attendees at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in my home city of Lima, Peru, this month that his country would support all those who want to keep global markets open. Delegates from around the world rose to their feet and applauded. As I’ve pieced together Mr. Trump’s little patches of color, I’ve come to realize that his real enemy is not globalism but mercantilism—the early stage of capitalism that prevailed in Europe from the 16th to 18th centuries also known as “crony” or “noninclusive” capitalism”.

-Bret Stephens (“Trump’s Neo-Nationalists”), The Wall Street Journal:

“Start with economic nationalism, a shopworn idea commonly associated with Latin American governments such as Juan Perón’s Argentina. In its milder form, economic nationalism means state subsidies for national-champion companies, giant infrastructure projects, targeted tariff protections for politically favored industries, “Buy American” provisions in government contracting, federal interventions against foreign takeovers of “sensitive” companies”.

-J. Bradford Delong (“Missing the Economic Big Picture”), The Project Syndicate:

“I recently heard former World Trade Organization Director-General Pascal Lamy paraphrasing a classic Buddhist proverb, wherein China’s Sixth Buddhist Patriarch Huineng tells the nun Wu Jincang: “When the philosopher points at the moon, the fool looks at the finger.” Lamy added that, “Market capitalism is the moon. Globalization is the finger.” With anti-globalization sentiment now on the rise throughout the West, this has been quite a year for finger-watching. In the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum, “Little Englanders” voted to leave the European Union; and in the United States, Donald Trump won the presidency because he convinced enough voters in crucial states that he will “make America great again,” not least by negotiating very different trade “deals” for the country. (…) By focusing on individual free-trade agreements, whether proposed or already existing, or on closing national borders to immigrants, we are looking at the finger and missing the moon. If we are to get a grip on the global economy’s trajectory, is time to look up”.

Los comentarios precedentes están muy ligados a la actualidad más rabiosa, pero ponen en evidencia fuerzas de fondo que vienen haciéndose cada vez más visibles en torno a un cierto cambio de guardia en el pensamiento y en la puesta en marcha de políticas económicas. De hecho, como comentaba en 2013 el profesor de Harvard Dani Rodrick en “El nuevo desafío mercantilista”: “La historia de la economía es en gran medida una lucha entre dos escuelas de pensamiento opuestas, el «liberalismo» y el «mercantilismo». El liberalismo económico, con su énfasis en los emprendimientos privados y el libre mercado es la doctrina dominante actual. Pero su victoria intelectual nos ha cegado respecto del gran atractivo –y frecuente éxito– de las prácticas mercantilistas. De hecho, el mercantilismo sigue vivo y goza de buena salud, y su continuo conflicto con el liberalismo probablemente será una importante fuerza que influirá sobre el futuro de la economía”.



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