A generation ago, the senators who used to earn bipartisan praise were those who occupied the moderate area of the political spectrum: folks like Sam Nunn or Richard Lugar. In a highly partisan world, however, it is increasingly the senators closer to the ideological extremes who occasionally earn cross-partisan support. Think of Tucker Carlson complimenting Elizabeth Warren, or left libertarians seeking common cause with Mike Lee.

Since his election in 2018, Sen. Josh Hawley has attracted praise from both national conservatives and leftists. Before his election, he put together an impeccable résumé, with degrees from Stanford and Yale and only the best clerkships. He made headlines when he started attacking Big Tech.

Last week, Hawley launched his latest initiative designed to elicit populist support from both sides. He penned a New York Times op-ed with a radical proposal for a post-coronavirus world: “The global economic system as we know it is a relic; it requires reform, top to bottom. We should begin with one of its leading institutions, the World Trade Organization. We should abolish it.”

Hawley’s proposal was strange for a bunch of reasons. Legally, the United States can’t abolish the WTO, since there are 163 other signatories and they might have some thoughts on the matter. Substantively, the United States already shivved the WTO by letting the Dispute Settlement Understanding fall by the wayside, so it’s not clear what Hawley thinks will be gained by further action.

Nonetheless, the junior senator from Missouri has introduced a joint resolution to Congress to withdraw from the WTO, so I guess this needs to be taken seriously.

I have no idea if Hawley took any political economy classes when he was at Stanford. I used to be a teaching assistant for some of those courses. Given the basic confusion surrounding his thesis, perhaps it is best to treat his op-ed the way one would treat an undergrad paper in global political economy:


You construct a provocative argument. It has a clear thesis and is easy to read. It appears, however, that you have fallen behind in the reading, because you make a number of elemental mistakes in your argument.

The most obvious problem is that your historical facts are wrong. You state in your op-ed that the WTO was “a system designed by ambitious Western policymakers after the fall of the Soviet Union.” That is, at best, half-correct; the Uruguay Round of negotiations that led to the WTO began in September 1986, when the Cold War was still going strong. It was signed after the Cold War ended, but a significant fraction of the agreement had already been negotiated. This is a problem, as you spend several paragraphs trying to insist the WTO is purely a post-Cold War creation. It wasn’t.

Another weird historical assertion is your claim that, “For nearly 50 years before the W.T.O.’s founding, the United States and its allies maintained a network of reciprocal trade that protected our national interests and the nation’s workers.” I presume this is supposed to be a reference to the WTO’s predecessor, the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade, except that your description of GATT does not match what it actually was. Each GATT round of trade negotiations led to a multilateral reduction of tariffs and non-tariff barriers. It was not a “network of reciprocal trade.” Again, this is important, because this is what you want the United States to do now, but your historical reference is off.

In a follow-up note, you state that you want to counter China and “protect American security.” Fair enough, but if you had done the reading, you would have known that the WTO’s Article XXI has exemptions that state the WTO cannot force any member “from taking any action which it considers necessary for the protection of its essential security interest.” Indeed, you would also have learned that the Trump administration has invoked this language at times. Why does the WTO need to be abolished if states can already factor in security interests?

As for your economic claims, well, they don’t hold up to scrutiny. While globalization has undeniably created costs for some Americans, those costs are dwarfed by the aggregate benefits. Even in the instances where your critique of the WTO contains a grain of truth, your proposed solution would be far worse than what others have proposed.

You can do better work than this, Josh. Put in the effort, do more research and make sharper arguments next time. Otherwise, people might think that you do not actually believe the arguments you are making and are merely engaging in sophistry.

Grade: a gentleman’s C-