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The Political Economy of Global Multilateralism

John O. McGinnis

Northwestern University - School of Law

June 2000

Chicago Journal of International Law, Fall 2000

This paper offers a theory rooted in political economy to determine when global multilateralism is justified. Its criteria for justification are three. First, multilateral agreements ideally should offer mutual gains for all the nations that are parties to them. If the gains are not contingent on being part of the multilateral agreement, principles of subsidiarity militate against joining. Second, ideally multilateral treaties should help nations be governed by what Mancur Olson called their encompassing interest- their diffuse citizenry rather than special interests. One important way of achieving this goal is to increase jurisdictional competition among nations which is, in my view, the defining virtue of sovereignty. For instance, trade agreements can increase jurisdictional competition by making capital more mobile. Finally, multilateral agreements should not require a complex and intrusive international enforcement apparatus, because distant international bureaucracies are likely to be captured by special interests and thus reduce the power of encompassing interests in national governance.

Using these criteria, the paper evaluates multilateralism in trade, human rights, regulation, criminal law, and military intervention. It concludes that trade multilateralism is currently the best form of global multilateralism because it can extend exchange through sustaining a global market and can empower encompassing interests. Other forms of global multilateralism may sometimes be necessary but even such instances will rarely have the cascading benefits of trade multilateralism.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 36

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Date posted: June 5, 2000  

Suggested Citation

McGinnis, John O., The Political Economy of Global Multilateralism (June 2000). Chicago Journal of International Law, Fall 2000. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=229873 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.229873

Contact Information

John McGinnis (Contact Author)
Northwestern University - School of Law ( email )
375 E. Chicago Ave
Unit 1505
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-3235 (Phone)
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