protectionist america -- 3/20/15

Today's selection -- from War and Gold by Kwasi Kwarteng. America today is largely an advocate of free trade, and the Republican party is usually the standard-bearer of that policy. However, the Republican party of Abraham Lincoln was highly protectionist, and the U.S. grew to be the world's economic colossus with a consistently high level of protectionism. It was only in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, after its manufacturing supremacy was well established, that the U.S. began to selectively adopt a free trade policy as a means of expanding its markets on a country-by-country basis:

"Contrary to what is commonly believed today about the efficacy of free markets and trade as an instrument of development, the United States continued throughout the second half of the nineteenth century to be a strongly protectionist country. 'The extreme protective system, which had been at the first a temporary expedient for aiding in the struggle for the Union ... gradually became accepted as a permanent institution.' High protection became a 'dogma'. Indeed, 'The restraint of trade with foreign countries, by means of import duties of forty, fifty, sixty, even a hundred percent, came to be advocated as a good thing in itself ...' Ideas of this kind 'were no longer the exploded errors of a small school of economists; they became the foundation of the policy of a great people'.

"The Republican Party, the victorious party of the Civil War, the party of the great quasi-martyr Abraham Lincoln, won election after general election in the forty-eight-year period from 1864 to 1912. In thirteen elections, the Democrats managed only three victories, the last of which occurred in 1912. The only other years in which the Democrats won were 1884 and 1892, both of which were (uniquely in US history) won by the same candidate, Grover Cleveland, who is known as both the twenty-second and the twenty-fourth President of the United States. The Republicans established themselves as a party of national economic might. Their programme 'threw the entire weight of the federal government behind the expansion of northern industry'. Republican policy naturally supported a 'protective tariff for industry', and it was in these years that the tariff became 'exclusively and distinctively a protective measure', shorn of any idea that it was needed for revenue-raising purposes on the part of the federal government."



Kwasi Kwarteng


War and Gold: A Five-Hundred-Year History of Empires, Adventures, and Debt




Copyright 2014 Kwasi Kwarteng


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