Fragments of Economic Accountability and Trade Policy


  • Authors' note: Ryan Kennedy is a Ph.D. candidate at The Ohio State University. He is currently working in Moldova as a Fulbright researcher. The author thanks Timothy Frye, Marcus Kurtz, John Quinn, Philip Nel, Christina Xydias, Allison Kennedy, and four anonymous reviewers for their comments on previous versions of this article. He also thanks Brandon Bartels, Jan Box-Steffensmeier and Quintin Beezer for their help with the methodology, and Timothy Frye and Edward Mansfield for use of some of their data. All errors are the author's.


While there has been a prodigious amount of literature on trade policy written in the past two decades, very little of that literature has dealt with countries in economic transition or nondemocratic regimes. There has also been a lack of work dealing with state interests in trade policy beyond realpolitik discussions of national security. This article seeks to fill some of these gaps through a study of two samples: one of liberalization in 25 post-Communist countries between the years 1991 and 1999 and the other of 124 countries from around the world in 1997. The study concludes that a key element in the choice between free trade and protectionism is the level of “fragmentation of economic accountability.” Such fragmentation consists of two major components: (1) the existence of a strong capitalist class that is independent of the government; and (2) the dispersion of political power among actors both inside and outside the government. Where the government is more accountable to a wide range of interests, policies are more likely to be aligned with market mechanisms, encouraging the adoption of reforms, including the liberalization of trade policy. This article builds on the conclusions of Frye and Mansfield in several ways: (1) it embeds political fragmentation into a larger theoretical framework of economic accountability of government institutions; (2) it introduces the importance of state ownership in shaping government interests; (3) it introduces an idea of social, not just institutional, accountability; and (4) it proposes a statist view of trade policy that is lacking in the present literature.