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Kerry Versus Bush On Trade

The question of who would be the better free trading president is of interested to the highly important swing electorate of hawkish libertarian academic webloggers who are disappointed in the Bush administration's competency, so here are my toughts. Obviously, both Bush and Kerry are not opposed to some obfuscation in this area. Their records, however, are pretty clear. Bush thinks that the best strategy for him is to talk like a free trader and then become a protectionist fairly frequently for political purposes. Kerry, on the other hand, has a pretty unambiguous pro-trade voting record and likes to cover his flanks with bouts of protectionist rhetoric. Projecting into the future, then, I would say Kerry is more likely to engage in actual lowerings of trade barriers.

On the other hand, like Clinton in his second term, Kerry will probably try to appease some elements of his base by attaching unenforceable labor and environmental standards into trade agreements, which will make it somewhat harder to get treaties agreed to. On the other hand, insofar as treaties are put in place, Kerry is less likely to invoke anti-dumping loopholes and so forth.

Another important factor is the legislature, where the Congressional Black Caucus has staked out the principled position that it will vote for trade agreements when Democrats are in the White House, but not otherwise. Okay, that's not a principled position at all, but it is there position. There are some GOP House members with similar views, but they are smaller in number. Last but not least, the nature of protectionism is likely to be different because the parties have different geographical bases. Bush-protectionism is more likely to be in the primary goods sector (lumber, shrimp, farms) and Kerry-protectionism is more likely to be of finished goods (cars, refrigerators), though I might be wrong about that. In general, I would say the trend is against protectionism in the Democratic Party since the industrial unions are an ever-smaller faction of the AFL-CIO. Neither the public sector unions nor the service sector ones have any interest in protectionism, while the GOP's farmers do and they're rapidly incorporating the coal industry into their coalition since environmentalists are bad for coal anyway.

July 10, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

Re: the coal lobby. It's actually interesting to watch how "clean coal" technology has the RAGs and CONSOLs all a-twitter.

Reason being that as scrubbing technology improves, coal seams with high sulfur content may become economically viable again. This, of course, pits the air environmentalist against the land, water, and historical preservation folks, but such is life.

Posted by: praktike | Jul 10, 2004 12:43:17 PM

It is a principled position, they are just useing a different metric than you are.

In their metric, they believe that in the long run, democrats will be a better choice than republicans, and so it is better to take short term defeats in trade than it is to support republicans.

Different metric, and you may argue about that metric, but providing a principled and consistent conclusion.

Posted by: jerry | Jul 10, 2004 12:49:01 PM

Granted that there specific regions and areas for which specific policies can be important, I don't really see why so many folk get excited about this. It is a zero possiblity that anyone will repeal NAFTA and put up 20% trade barriers so any policy change will be so marginal as to not have macro effects.

Yet Drezner and Levy view it as in the class of Iraq.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jul 10, 2004 1:35:25 PM

I suppose Kerry could theoretically be better, but there is this: of Bush's big deviations from free trade, Kerry has supported everything. Steel tariffs, the ag. subsidy bill, he came out for all of it. I suppose on some of the minor stuff its possible he hasn't taken a position, but he certainly hasn't come out against anything. On trade, its basically the case that the Republicans set the free trade baseline. Democrats never get to the right of the baseline set by the median Republican. All of Clintons' free trade initiatives depended on getting the majority of the Republicans in Congress to support him against heavy Dem opposition. Except for China and WTO, they were also instances of him finishing stuff started by Bush I. He was unable for his last five years in office to get fast track authority renewed while Bush was able to get it. I see no way Kerry will be able to be better on trade than Bush, even if he wanted to, given the current shape of Dem opinion.
Edwards is opposed to some of Bush's remaining free trade initiatives (Australia, CAFTA) and if Bush is defeated before passing them, they're dead.

Posted by: rd | Jul 10, 2004 1:36:51 PM

Bush is a "protectionist"? That has got to be the most hilarious charge against him I've ever seen. Signing free trade agreements with Vietnam, Singapore, and Central America, along with renewing our commitment to give China MFN is protectionist? He pulled the rug out from under his 30% steel tariff once the higher authority on American trade policy -- the WTO -- said we acted "illegally." Tell the thousands of textile workers in the Carolinas who've lost their jobs to Vietnamese and Chinese workers that Bush is "protectionist." Tell the manufacturing workers from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania that they lost their jobs to China and Central America despite Bush trying to "protect" them.

Bush is no "protectionist" and neither is Kerry. They are both committed to the gospel of "free trade," and middle America is worse off because of it.

Posted by: Keith | Jul 10, 2004 1:50:07 PM

A few thoughts.

It's not unreasonable for Kerry and Edwards to talk about environmental and labor standards. For one thing, even if they are not serious, it will look like they give a crap about what those constituencies think. But perhaps more importantly, they can do so and have some solid backup from people in the academic community, people who are experts on trade and economic matters and have worked in government as well. I'm talking about people like Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, who more or less admit that there are major problems to be addressed, but that free trade still needs to occur. Plus, they can tie this into the tax cut issue and health care issues. Tax cuts targeted to lower- and middle-class citizens could have given a greater bump to consumption, thereby helping the struggling manufacturing session. And if health care costs go down, companies might not be so eager to outsource. Brad DeLong, over on his blog, has made similar comments. If they can effectively bring together all sides of the issue, sort of like Clinton, they can still correctly state that free trade is good, but that more needs to be done to help with the transition.

Now, what to make of this article from The National Journal? http://nationaljournal.com/crook.htm

Posted by: Brian | Jul 10, 2004 2:21:14 PM

rd,

Where did you hear that information? I haven't seen it. I tried to do a search for it, but came up with nothing. I will go over the Kerry's site now, but if you could provide me with specific links or something, please do.

Posted by: Brian | Jul 10, 2004 2:26:50 PM

Well, I may be no "expert," but I don't think I've lost my common sense like some in the academy. You say: "Tax cuts targeted to lower- and middle-class citizens could have given a greater bump to consumption, thereby helping the struggling manufacturing session." You're right -- tax cuts would give people more money to spend on things, and thus help manufacturing. But, won't it help China's, Vietnam's, and Central America's manufacturing? Corporations are closing shop in the USA because you have to pay an American $15 -$20 an hour to make things, but you only have to pay a Chinese worker $1 a day. A little tax cut to lower-middle class America won't change that.

How about a tax hike -- on corporations who decide they want to make things outside this country, but yet at the same time want to benefit from this country's consumer market.

Posted by: Keith | Jul 10, 2004 2:47:29 PM

Keith,

I'm no economic expert, at least not yet, but I think the argument goes something like this. People have more money to spend, they will spend it on things that they need, which translates into cheaper things, things that are manufactured, being bought. This gives business a boost, and because they get a boost, they can hire more workers, who will have more money to spend. And so on.

Posted by: Brian | Jul 10, 2004 3:25:00 PM

Brian,

Thanks for your comment. I agree with you -- supply side economics work, which is why you are right in advocating lower tax rates for individuals. When people spend more money, business get a boost, and then hire more people. It's the last part of that equation that is becoming more problematic in our globalized economy. Businesses are building factories, for instance, in China -- not the USA. So yes, jobs are created -- in China, and other third world countries. Not in the USA. At least, that is the case in manufacturing. So, to say that a tax cut on individuals will help manufacturing in the USA doesn't follow given our globalized economy.

Posted by: Keith | Jul 10, 2004 3:45:41 PM

"supply side economics work"

That's a massively sweeping generalization.

Posted by: Brian | Jul 10, 2004 4:18:30 PM

OK -- you're right. I was too general in my statement. What I meant to convey was that the ASPECT of "supply side economics" that you proposed is the right idea (tax cuts spur growth). That's all I meant to say.

You're correction is appreciated, because I don't want anyone to think that I buy into sweeping generalizations -- like "free trade works" or "protectionism is bad."

Now, what do you think about the point I made about businesses using extra money for investment to build factories overseas rather than in the USA?

Posted by: Keith | Jul 10, 2004 4:26:55 PM

"I'm talking about people like Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, who more or less admit that there are major problems to be addressed, but that free trade still needs to occur."

Actually, Paul Krugman is an unabashed free trader, and would likely not care much for labor agreements as part of trade packages. I'm just going to cut and paste his entire 1997 Slate article "In Praise of Cheap Labor":

IN PRAISE OF CHEAP LABOR
Bad jobs at bad wages are better than no jobs at all.

SYNOPSIS: Detractors of globalization don't understand Economic reality and comparative wages.

For many years a huge Manila garbage dump known as Smokey Mountain was a favorite media symbol of Third World poverty. Several thousand men, women, and children lived on that dump--enduring the stench, the flies, and the toxic waste in order to make a living combing the garbage for scrap metal and other recyclables. And they lived there voluntarily, because the $10 or so a squatter family could clear in a day was better than the alternatives.
The squatters are gone now, forcibly removed by Philippine police last year as a cosmetic move in advance of a Pacific Rim summit. But I found myself thinking about Smokey Mountain recently, after reading my latest batch of hate mail.
The occasion was an op-ed piece I had written for the New York Times, in which I had pointed out that while wages and working conditions in the new export industries of the Third World are appalling, they are a big improvement over the "previous, less visible rural poverty." I guess I should have expected that this comment would generate letters along the lines of, "Well, if you lose your comfortable position as an American professor you can always find another job--as long as you are 12 years old and willing to work for 40 cents an hour."
Such moral outrage is common among the opponents of globalization--of the transfer of technology and capital from high-wage to low-wage countries and the resulting growth of labor-intensive Third World exports. These critics take it as a given that anyone with a good word for this process is naive or corrupt and, in either case, a de facto agent of global capital in its oppression of workers here and abroad.
But matters are not that simple, and the moral lines are not that clear. In fact, let me make a counter-accusation: The lofty moral tone of the opponents of globalization is possible only because they have chosen not to think their position through. While fat-cat capitalists might benefit from globalization, the biggest beneficiaries are, yes, Third World workers.

After all, global poverty is not something recently invented for the benefit of multinational corporations. Let's turn the clock back to the Third World as it was only two decades ago (and still is, in many countries). In those days, although the rapid economic growth of a handful of small Asian nations had started to attract attention, developing countries like Indonesia or Bangladesh were still mainly what they had always been: exporters of raw materials, importers of manufactures. Inefficient manufacturing sectors served their domestic markets, sheltered behind import quotas, but generated few jobs. Meanwhile, population pressure pushed desperate peasants into cultivating ever more marginal land or seeking a livelihood in any way possible--such as homesteading on a mountain of garbage.
Given this lack of other opportunities, you could hire workers in Jakarta or Manila for a pittance. But in the mid-'70s, cheap labor was not enough to allow a developing country to compete in world markets for manufactured goods. The entrenched advantages of advanced nations--their infrastructure and technical know-how, the vastly larger size of their markets and their proximity to suppliers of key components, their political stability and the subtle-but-crucial social adaptations that are necessary to operate an efficient economy--seemed to outweigh even a tenfold or twentyfold disparity in wage rates.

And then something changed. Some combination of factors that we still don't fully understand--lower tariff barriers, improved telecommunications, cheaper air transport--reduced the disadvantages of producing in developing countries. (Other things being the same, it is still better to produce in the First World--stories of companies that moved production to Mexico or East Asia, then moved back after experiencing the disadvantages of the Third World environment, are common.) In a substantial number of industries, low wages allowed developing countries to break into world markets. And so countries that had previously made a living selling jute or coffee started producing shirts and sneakers instead.
Workers in those shirt and sneaker factories are, inevitably, paid very little and expected to endure terrible working conditions. I say "inevitably" because their employers are not in business for their (or their workers') health; they pay as little as possible, and that minimum is determined by the other opportunities available to workers. And these are still extremely poor countries, where living on a garbage heap is attractive compared with the alternatives.

And yet, wherever the new export industries have grown, there has been measurable improvement in the lives of ordinary people. Partly this is because a growing industry must offer a somewhat higher wage than workers could get elsewhere in order to get them to move. More importantly, however, the growth of manufacturing--and of the penumbra of other jobs that the new export sector creates--has a ripple effect throughout the economy. The pressure on the land becomes less intense, so rural wages rise; the pool of unemployed urban dwellers always anxious for work shrinks, so factories start to compete with each other for workers, and urban wages also begin to rise. Where the process has gone on long enough--say, in South Korea or Taiwan--average wages start to approach what an American teen-ager can earn at McDonald's. And eventually people are no longer eager to live on garbage dumps. (Smokey Mountain persisted because the Philippines, until recently, did not share in the export-led growth of its neighbors. Jobs that pay better than scavenging are still few and far between.)
The benefits of export-led economic growth to the mass of people in the newly industrializing economies are not a matter of conjecture. A country like Indonesia is still so poor that progress can be measured in terms of how much the average person gets to eat; since 1970, per capita intake has risen from less than 2,100 to more than 2,800 calories a day. A shocking one-third of young children are still malnourished--but in 1975, the fraction was more than half. Similar improvements can be seen throughout the Pacific Rim, and even in places like Bangladesh. These improvements have not taken place because well-meaning people in the West have done anything to help--foreign aid, never large, has lately shrunk to virtually nothing. Nor is it the result of the benign policies of national governments, which are as callous and corrupt as ever. It is the indirect and unintended result of the actions of soulless multinationals and rapacious local entrepreneurs, whose only concern was to take advantage of the profit opportunities offered by cheap labor. It is not an edifying spectacle; but no matter how base the motives of those involved, the result has been to move hundreds of millions of people from abject poverty to something still awful but nonetheless significantly better.

Why, then, the outrage of my correspondents? Why does the image of an Indonesian sewing sneakers for 60 cents an hour evoke so much more feeling than the image of another Indonesian earning the equivalent of 30 cents an hour trying to feed his family on a tiny plot of land--or of a Filipino scavenging on a garbage heap?
The main answer, I think, is a sort of fastidiousness. Unlike the starving subsistence farmer, the women and children in the sneaker factory are working at slave wages for our benefit--and this makes us feel unclean. And so there are self-righteous demands for international labor standards: We should not, the opponents of globalization insist, be willing to buy those sneakers and shirts unless the people who make them receive decent wages and work under decent conditions.
This sounds only fair--but is it? Let's think through the consequences.

First of all, even if we could assure the workers in Third World export industries of higher wages and better working conditions, this would do nothing for the peasants, day laborers, scavengers, and so on who make up the bulk of these countries' populations. At best, forcing developing countries to adhere to our labor standards would create a privileged labor aristocracy, leaving the poor majority no better off.
And it might not even do that. The advantages of established First World industries are still formidable. The only reason developing countries have been able to compete with those industries is their ability to offer employers cheap labor. Deny them that ability, and you might well deny them the prospect of continuing industrial growth, even reverse the growth that has been achieved. And since export-oriented growth, for all its injustice, has been a huge boon for the workers in those nations, anything that curtails that growth is very much against their interests. A policy of good jobs in principle, but no jobs in practice, might assuage our consciences, but it is no favor to its alleged beneficiaries.

You may say that the wretched of the earth should not be forced to serve as hewers of wood, drawers of water, and sewers of sneakers for the affluent. But what is the alternative? Should they be helped with foreign aid? Maybe--although the historical record of regions like southern Italy suggests that such aid has a tendency to promote perpetual dependence. Anyway, there isn't the slightest prospect of significant aid materializing. Should their own governments provide more social justice? Of course--but they won't, or at least not because we tell them to. And as long as you have no realistic alternative to industrialization based on low wages, to oppose it means that you are willing to deny desperately poor people the best chance they have of progress for the sake of what amounts to an aesthetic standard--that is, the fact that you don't like the idea of workers being paid a pittance to supply rich Westerners with fashion items.
In short, my correspondents are not entitled to their self-righteousness. They have not thought the matter through. And when the hopes of hundreds of millions are at stake, thinking things through is not just good intellectual practice. It is a moral duty.

Posted by: Keith | Jul 10, 2004 4:39:45 PM

"The question of who would be the better free trading president is of interested to the highly important swing electorate of hawkish libertarian academic webloggers who are disappointed in the Bush administration's competency, so here are my toughts."

Why hawkish? Libertarian doves care about trade policy too....

Posted by: digamma | Jul 10, 2004 4:53:10 PM

Clarification: I did not post the Krugman piece -- I was responding to Brian on a couple points on free trade. I am not a free trader, and I will respond to the other Keith's post in due course. Krugman can be easily refuted.

Posted by: Keith | Jul 10, 2004 5:18:31 PM

It is astonishing and depressing to me that neither Democrats nor Republicans seem even vaguely interested in doing the one thing that would advance the cause of free trade, *and* restore the American manufacturing sector, which is of course to enact a law that would require *all* of our trading partners to both float and not manipulate their currencies against the dollar. The reason that previous globalizations have failed (which is to say British-led globalization, and before that Dutch-led globalization, and before that Spanish-led globalization) is that the country leading the charge toward globalization first embraces the canard that it can abandon traditional industries for a mostly, or exclusively services and finance-based economy, and then proceeds to allow strong, emerging competitors to practice protectionism vis a vis said traditional industries (in the case of Britain a century ago and America today it is manufacturing). As these traditional industries are some combination of outsourced, and allowed to be cannibalized by cheap imports from protectionist, emerging economies (for Great Britain, it was cheap imports particularly from protectionist emerging giants Germany and America), the middle class ultimately withers, and a populist backlash against free trade and globalization within the great economic power ensues. That's what's happening in America today. Now, of course, China and other dynamic, emerging economies are not protectionist in the traditional sense of using tariffs and quotas against us, but they are in practice protectionist by artifically devaluing their currencies against the dollar. Pols like Lieberman are right to speak out against this practice, but talk is cheap, and it is not enough to focus on China. Forcing only the Chinese to float their currency, while allowing the practice more generally, only means that other countries will have the incentive to do the same thing to us. A strictly enforced law on either the national level, allowing for tariffs against countries that do not float their currencies against the dollar, or an international agreement allowing for steep penalties against countries that perpetuate this practice, would resurrect the American manufacturing sector in five years, and bring the world one step closer to truly free trade.

Posted by: Scoop Democrat | Jul 10, 2004 5:21:44 PM

Brian,
I assume you want links on Kerry anti-trade positions. Here's a link to a letter he signed urging Bush to keep the steel tariffs he eventually lifted, so on that issue he was even less pro-trade than Bush and actually, horror of horrors, unilateralist, since keeping the tariffs meant defying a WTO ruling:

http://www.steel.org/policy/pdfs/newsletters/2003/031024.pdf

As for the ag subsidy bill, congressional voting records will show he voted for final passage, though I couldn't pull up a link on short notice.

Posted by: rd | Jul 10, 2004 5:25:56 PM

"The reason that previous globalizations have failed (which is to say British-led globalization, and before that Dutch-led globalization, and before that Spanish-led globalization) is that the country leading the charge toward globalization first embraces the canard that it can abandon traditional industries for a mostly, or exclusively services and finance-based economy, and then proceeds to allow strong, emerging competitors to practice protectionism vis a vis said traditional industries..."

Scoop Democrat: Where did you ever get the idea that the U.S. "embraces the canard that it can abandon traditional industries." ?

America has no central Ministry of Trade that decides which industries may and may not be abandoned. To the extent that the compositition of economic activity in the USA differs from that of 20 or 30 (or 100) years ago, it is mostly the result of investors responding to differing rates of return. Anyway, the U.S. is at or near its all-time peak in terms of the value of its manufacturing output -- it just achieves this imput with fewer workers than it used to. And anyway, would you really want the U.S. to stick with such "traditional" industries as clipper ship production or crude textiles?

Posted by: P.B. Almeida | Jul 10, 2004 6:02:19 PM

"America has no central Ministry of Trade that decides which industries may and may not be abandoned."

America doesn't need a "central ministry of trade" to willfully, negligently destroy its manufacturing sector. All it needed to do was open its market to cheap Japanese goods, while not (at least not until the late 1980s, when James Baker was sent over to tell the Japanese to knock it the hell off, which they did) demanding that the Japanese stop manipulating their currency (which is to say practicing protectionism), and effectively prohibit the possibility that the market will create a level playing field between their manufacturers and ours (which it would). We're making the same mistake now, vis a vis China, and other emerging economies (while I would add once again allowing the Japanese to fuck with their currency, as payback for their support in Iraq).

The clipper ship analogy is ridiculous spin on your part. I used the phrase "traditional industries" simply to draw the analogy between American-led globalization and previous globalizations. In the case of Spain, the chief "traditional industry" that was outsourced and allowed to wither was wool and textiles, while in America today, just as in Britain a century ago, it is manufacturing. An economy, like a portfolio, is healthiest when it is broad-based, and diverse, valuing technology and agriculture, manufacturing and finance, mining and fishing, and everything in between. What I am saying is that the best path to a broad-based, diverse economy is to *actually* practice free trade, and demand that all our trading partners do so as well. If you genuinely believe in the power of markets, and in free trade, you would be adamantly opposed to allowing foreign governments to manipulate the value of their currencies. Supporting these practices means you support protectionism.

Posted by: Scoop Democrat | Jul 10, 2004 7:50:59 PM

"Now, what do you think about the point I made about businesses using extra money for investment to build factories overseas rather than in the USA?"

What about it?

Posted by: Brian | Jul 11, 2004 2:41:49 AM

"Actually, Paul Krugman is an unabashed free trader, and would likely not care much for labor agreements as part of trade packages."

Well, I remember reading a column of his a few months ago where he said, more or less, that the people who criticize free trade do have some points, but that we need to go ahead with it anyway, for as Krugman says, the alternative is much worse. Pieces like that - I believe there is one more, so elegantly simplistic but so intelligent - are some of my favorites.

Posted by: Brian | Jul 11, 2004 2:44:49 AM

"As for the ag subsidy bill, congressional voting records will show he voted for final passage, though I couldn't pull up a link on short notice."

I consider agricultural subsidies an entirely different animal. They, too, I imagine, are like Social Security, a third rail of politics: touch them, and you die. So while I don't really like the fact that so many politicians are hell bent on bending over to farmers, I completely understand why they do it.

As for the steel tariffs, it's interesting to note that he did in fact support them. But why? This letter doesn't reveal a great deal, and while I may be giving Kerry too much credit, he could very well have other motives (not just those nifty Electoral College votes). Was there, for instance, some relief that otherwise would not have gone to the steel industry, "transition assistance" or whatever you want to call it?

Posted by: Brian | Jul 11, 2004 2:54:08 AM

Ag subsidies may have once been separate from trade, but in current negotiations they're inextricably linked, since poorer countries rightly see them as a large barrier to their own exports. Any possible new world trade agreement will include ag subsidy reform, and the 2002 bill made that harder. As for steel tariffs, they were an executive action, not a law that would have included new "transition assistance." The letter is specifically calling for the retention of tariffs even after a WTO ruling. Face it: when it comes to choosing between free trade and electoral votes, Kerry is at least as bad as Bush and will probably be worse.

Posted by: rd | Jul 11, 2004 9:54:54 AM

"Ag subsidies may have once been separate from trade, but in current negotiations they're inextricably linked, since poorer countries rightly see them as a large barrier to their own exports."

I wasn't commenting on how they were negotiated over. Rather, I was saying that politicians seem to show a lot more hesitation in pissing off farmers than other groups and that I understand why.

"As for steel tariffs, they were an executive action, not a law that would have included new 'transition assistance.'"

I haven't actually read the bill myself, so that's why I am not familiar with its specifics. So it included no assistance or anything like that? In any event, I think my point still stands: Kerry could very well have supported this bill because it was the only way the industry could have gotten something positive, not because he was in favor of protectionism.

Posted by: Brian | Jul 11, 2004 12:50:19 PM

"If you genuinely believe in the power of markets, and in free trade, you would be adamantly opposed to allowing foreign governments to manipulate the value of their currencies. Supporting these practices means you support protectionism."

Scoop Democrat: I don't believe I said I support "allowing" foreign goverments to intervene in currency markets, but I'll freely admit to not being overly worried one way or another. In the first place, by far the greatest such manipulation has been practised by the Chinese central bank, whose "manipulation" of currency has largely consisted of lending money to the U.S. government (the eventual decline of which is going to be felt most painfully in my neck of the woods in the form of rising interest rates and slumping property values). In the second place, not even those mightly institutions knows as national governments are as powerful as global capital flows. In other words, any effort to manipulate a currency's value to one different from the market price is doomed to failure in the long run.

And finally, I don't know what you're referring to when you talk about "destroying" our manufacturing sector. U.S. manufacturing output is at or near an all time high. You're quite right, though, about the desirability of a diverse economy (it's never a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket), and I can confidently report to you that the $12 trillion U.S. economy is among the world's most diverse.

Posted by: P.B. Almeida | Jul 11, 2004 7:28:21 PM

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