Reading Olson to understand Trump : multipolarity without multilateralism?
Fiesole : European University Institute
RSCAS Policy Papers : RSCAS PP 2018/02
Multipolarity, Multilateralism, Trade, Trump
Since Trump’s election, multipolarity seems to be inducing an abatement of multilateralism. Why? This paper intends to explain this paradox by applying Mancur Olson’s theory of collective action to Trump’s Trade Policy. Olson predicted that in a social game in which the number of actors increases significantly, dominant actors dispose of two main resources to limit the number of free riders: rewards and coercion. By applying this hypothesis to Trump’s trade policy, it becomes clear that Trump wants to reduce the rewards offered to his partners, as he deems them excessive. Furthermore, he considers that the rules and norms of the world trading system limit the United States’ ability to coerce its partners. For this reason, the aim of Trump’s trade policy is to unbind the United States from the constraints of the multilateral trade system.