Public Choice

, Volume 97, Issue 4, pp 605-615

First online:

Why only Nixon could go to China

  • Tyler CowenAffiliated withDepartment of Economics, George Mason University
  • , Daniel SutterAffiliated withDepartment of Economics, University of Oklahoma

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Right-wing politicians sometimes can implement policies that left-wing politicians cannot, and vice versa. Contemporary wisdom has it that “only Nixon could have gone to China”. We develop a model to explain this phenomenon. A policy issue could depend on information, on which every one could potentially agree on policy, or on values, on which agreement is impossible. Politicians, who value both reelection and policy outcomes, realize the nature of the issue, whereas voters do not. Only a right-wing president can credibly signal the desirability of a left-wing course of action. The Nixon paradox can hold then if citizens vote retrospectively on the issue.