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Transitions at Eyes on Trade

Today is my 632nd and final blog post on Eyes and Trade. It has been a pleasure interacting with you over the last 5.5 years.

Tomorrow is my final day at Public Citizen. I’ve been named a Gates Scholar and I’ll be off to the University of Cambridge to continue my research agenda. You can keep tabs on me at my personal blog: ToddNTucker.com.

Eyes on Trade will continue, under the able editorial oversight of Ben Beachy - Public Citizen’s new research director on trade issues. You’ve already seen him blogging here, and you’re in great hands!

When I came to Public Citizen in October 2004, I had an interest in foreign policy and institutional economics (how politics shape economic outcomes and vice versa). I was eager to work with a terrific group of activists, and to learn about Congress and trade issues.

So, what have I learned?

You wouldn’t know it from opening up a major newspaper or listening to our top politicians, but trade issues matter deeply to many Americans. I think there’s a few reasons you don’t see this bubble up to policy change.

First, the power of corporations in our political process is massive. The recent Citizens United decision has only made this worse, such that members of Congress that once pushed aggressively populist fair trade policy now are afraid to speak out. Unions and other progressive groups apparently have difficulty demanding and getting much from politicians in this context, even ones they helped elect.

Second, general newspapers have downsized to the point where they cannot effectively cover trade issues any more. If you want to read about trade issues, you better be subscribed to specialized journals or wire services, many of which are fair in their coverage, but which service a business clientele base. The information gap is a huge reason why politicians can get away with not changing our trade policy.

Third, the decline of union membership and other civil engagement has created a weak social basis for pushing for change. When I started working on globalization issues in a professional capacity in 2000, there were dozens if not hundreds of staff at various U.S. organizations following trade matters. Thanks to funding changes, membership decline and organizational shifts, you’d be lucky to fill a room with 10 people who dedicate the bulk of their work to these issues. Public Citizen, thankfully, has been an exception to that overall trend, but the work is harder than ever.

Fourth, the trade debate is dominated by trade lawyers. One of neoliberals’ most brilliant accomplishments was to give trade and investment policy a legal character through institutions like the WTO, while legislatures are still national. This plays out in a few ways:
  • Domestic courts wisely defer largely to the political process to resolve most questions – the presence of the domestic political scene all around probably helps reinforce the constitutional restraints. National, state and local lawmakers are out there making law every day, and stand ready to overturn judicial precedents or impeach justices if they get too far out of hand. In contrast, the closest thing that the WTO has to a “legislature” is its trade negotiators, who manage to actually only make new “law” every generation or so. In the gap, we see the dispute settlement process actually setting most of the contours of what ends up being law.
  • “Legalization” also entails a threat of litigation. So, on the rare occasion when a country or advocacy organization manages to get a debate going about changing a WTO provision, the logic of litigation takes over. No country wants to say that a rule might need to change, because doing so could be seen as an admission that the country is breaking the rules, and thus needs the policy space. Because the conversation never bubbles up, change never happens. The kind folks at our trade agencies in the U.S. and around the world can then continue to say that there is “no problem”!
  • Legalization also creates a cadre of specialized academics that live mostly in law schools. The social science world I come from has very little understanding of how trade laws actually work. This creates a problem: the academics who know this stuff the best are focused on positive law analysis (what does the law say?), while the academics that are better positioned to ask more systemic questions on the political economy of globalization have little ability to engage. This does not stop the economics profession from cheerleading for trade agreements, but this is because they are not able or willing to see trade deals for what they really are: compacts about regulation that go far beyond the despised tariffs. Needless to say, economists provide sufficient intellectual cover to the fundamentally corporate dominated agenda that it tends to roll right through.


On a personal note, over nearly eight years of work at Public Citizen, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the best thinkers and activists in the world. I’ll miss them greatly, but look forward to continuing in public service by other means.

I started this blog with Brandon Wu in the early days of 2007, after operating a predecessor blog called Lame Duck Hunt for a few months at the end of 2006. The idea was pretty simple: with newsrooms cutting back on the quality and quantity of their coverage of most issues (including trade), new outlets had to be developed to fill the gap. We somewhat reluctantly stepped into the blogosphere, knowing full well that the best bloggers made it a full-time job, and we still had all of our campaigning responsibilities to attend to. But I’d like to think that, over 1,200 posts in, we’ve made a contribution to the public debate.

I’d like to especially recognize Lori Wallach, perhaps the world’s most relentless advocate, who trained me and trusted me enough to allow me to run the blog.

Organizations are made up of people, and Public Citizen’s trade division has had some great ones. Since I’ve been here, I’ve had the pleasure of working with:

  • Deputy directors: Chris Slevin, Deborah James, Bill Holland and Kate Titus;
  • Researchers: Mary Bottari, Brandon Wu, Travis McArthur, Ben Beachy, Erica Maharg, Lauren Forbes, McKenzie Millar, Sonal Mittal and Greg Greenberg;
  • State and international team staff: Sara Johnson, Sehar Raziuddin, Saerom Park, Susan Ellsworth, Kate Pollard, Sarah Edelman, Melinda St. Louis and Jessa Boehner;
  • Media staff: Megan Farrington, Eliza Brinkmeyer, Holly Shulman, Ann Eveleth, Bryan Buchanan and Arden Manning;
  • Development staff and contractors: Amy Bruno, Sylvia Lee, David Bogoslaw and Steven Knievel;
  • Organizers: Timi Gerson, Raul Islas, Ilana Blankman, David Edeli, James Ploeser, Alexis DeSimone, Paul Hobi, Agatha Schmaedick, Michael Crawford, Beatriz Lopez, Brooke Harper, Alisa Simmons, Carrie Hathorn, Akudo Ejelonu, and Nick Florko;
  • Legislative assistants: Genevie Gold; Jamie Strawbridge; Jessi Long; Libby Sinback; Paul Adler; Daphne Watkins; Ebony Stoutmiles; Katherine Alexander and Joe Battistelli;
  • Dozens of fantastic interns! Apologies if I left anyone off!

I've also gotten to work with excellent staff across Public Citizen, including Joan Claybrook, Rob Weissman, Aileen Walsh, Joe Stoshak, Richard Loomis, Deidra Bolden, Mary Kallarakal, Benita May, Olalekan Mustapha, Suleyman Pehlivan, Kevin Rice, Jerry Reichelt, Casey O'Rourke, Graham Steele, Amit Narang, Taylor Lincoln, Craig Holman, David Arkush, Laura MacCleery, Angela Canterbury, Christine Hines, Lisa Gilbert, Bart Naylor, Negah Mouzoun, Kelly Ngo, Eric Encarnacion, Micah Hauptman, Tyson Slocum, Allison Fisher, Paul Levy, Adina Rosenbaum, Julie Murray, Mike Kirkpatrick, Michael Page, Allison Zieve, Greg Beck, Scott Nelson, Kathryn Bogel, Bridgette Blair, Angela Bradbery, Barbara Holzer, Rachel Lewis, Dorry Samuels, Glenn Simpson, Rick Claypool, James Decker, Joe Newman, Peter Mayburduk, Burcu Kilic and all the other great staff over the years.

I've also leaned  heavily on my precedessors as research director: Tom Hilliard, Chris McGinn, Gaby Boyer, Peter Cooper, Bob Naiman, Michelle Sforza, Patrick Woodall and Fiona Wright.


If you've made it this far, congrats! Be well, keep up the fight, and keep at least one eye on trade!

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Timi Gerson

Todd, you will be deeply missed by all of us on this side of the pond, but I know your next step will just make you an even more amazing advocate for global justice (if that's possible). I'm glad I played a role in helping GTW snag your talents lo these many years ago - you've been an incredible asset to the group and the movement.

Bryan Buchanan

Godspeed, Professor Tucker!

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