This business of trade policy - its study, formulation, implementation, and assessment-is valuable and important, but it is not science, at least not one of those sciences that is both propelled and disciplined by the scientific method. For a refresher on the scientific method, this excerpt from a 1964 lecture by
Richard Feynman should do the trick:
"Now I'm going to discuss how we would look for a new law. In general, we look for a new law by the following process. First then, we guess it. - We'll don't laugh, that's really true. - Then we compute the consequences of the guess, to see what, if this is right, if this law that we guessed is right, we see what it would imply. And then we compare those computation results to nature, or, we say, to compare to experiment or experience, compare it directly with observations to see if it works.
"If it disagrees with experiment, it's wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn't make a difference how beautiful your guess is. It doesn't make a difference how smart you are, who made the guess or what his name is. If it disagrees with experiment, it's wrong. That's all there is to it."
To be sure, Professor Feynman talked about other elements of the scientific method, including, for example, the importance of formulating the law or hypothesis in such a way that one set of facts or another could disprove it.
That's more than we need here, however, where the point is simply that policy formulation isn't science. And indeed the fact that the real life consequences of a policy may be quite different from those expected or promised by policy makers, though important, is still secondary. The real difference is that laws of physics don't change the underlying realities. Policies do. China's WTO membership may not have led to the growth in U.S. and European exports that policy makers anticipated. And the resulting explosion of Western investment in China may not have been unanticipated. And yett it is now
those realities that beg the question, what next for China policy?
New policies will, of course, be formulated. As always, one hopes that work will be done bearing in mind the adage "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry."