Why Are the Candidates Mute on the Global Economy?

AS we all expected, the presidential campaign has focused on the economy. But what economy have the candidates been focusing on? Certainly not the modern United States economy, which is linked to the world around it by global flows of capital, goods, and ideas.

Most of the political discussions have ignored the extent to which today's US economy is a part of a broader global economy. Nearly a fifth of our gross domestic product - and hence millions of American jobs - depends on trade. Listening to the candidates, one would have never guessed that 1 in 6 American manufacturing jobs depends directly on exports, or that we export 25 percent of our agricultural products. And trade is not the only way we are connected to the rest of the world: The US is both the lar gest investor abroad and the largest home for such investment.

In the post-cold-war era, economic mettle has become as important a tool for leadership as military might. Over the next four years, our president will be charged with conceiving and implementing a fundamentally new role for the US.

Yet the candidates have generally avoided international issues. They worry that voters will be turned off by discussion of "foreign policy," when our domestic economy seems stuck in reverse. But voters aren't fooled: They live in the global economy. They build products or supply services bound for Frankfurt or Jakarta. They are expanding businesses with money made available by a worldwide flow of capital.

The American people know that our economy is a global one. And they deserve to know how the candidates view the world, and America's role in it, because their interests are at stake. The public wants answers to the following questions.

What do we expect from our international partners? The candidates are correct to call on our allies abroad to shoulder more defense costs, but they have ignored other critical areas for international cooperation. We will need the help of other economic powers, not only to achieve security, but also to keep the global economy on track and to tackle tough new problems like protection of the natural environment and international health issues. The turmoil in world currency markets over the past month indica tes just how closely linked our interests are, but the stalled Uruguay Round of trade talks shows that agreement can be hard to come by.

Why doesn't anyone talk about money? The flow of capital across borders has increased dramatically over the past 20 years, even when compared with a rapid expansion in world trade. When measured by its market value, US investment abroad nearly doubled from 1982 to 1990. Despite the increasing importance of international investment, no international authority sets rules for investment or mediates disputes between nations, as GATT does for trade. Other financial issues, such as exchange-rate coordination, will also grow in importance, but the candidates act as though they did not exist.

What about the developing world? The strategic importance of developing nations has faded with the end of the superpower rivalry, but their potential economic significance has not. These nations are already home to four-fifths of the world's people and will experience explosive population growth in the years ahead. To the extent that we can help these nations prosper, they will serve as large and growing markets for US products. (In 1991, exports to the developing nations accounted for 80 percent of US e xport growth.) Yet apart from the North American Free Trade Agreement, we haven't heard from the candidates about the potential of the developing world.

What is the role of international institutions? The US has been a big laggard in global cooperation, shirking bills from the United Nations and other international institutions whose work is critical to fostering cooperation. If we are to promote and rely on cooperation, we must be ready to pay our fair share in support of these institutions and help reposition them to manage new missions and new challenges.

The future security and prosperity of American citizens will depend on the decisions that the US president makes in a completely reconfigured international arena. If security and prosperity aren't proper topics for a presidential campaign, then nothing is.

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