*Clashing over Commerce: A History of US Trade Policy*

by on July 31, 2017 at 7:33 am in Books, Economics, History | Permalink

That is the new, magisterial, and comprehensive history by Douglas A. Irwin, just arrived in my hands and due out November 27.  It is likely the best history of trade policy to be written, 821 pp., the questions it covers include:

How did Jefferson’s trade embargo in 1808 affect the economy?  Did high tariffs promote America’s industrialization in the nineteenth century?  Did the Hawley-Smoot tariff of 1930 exacerbate or ameliorate the Great Depression?  Were liberal trade policies after World War II responsible for the economic prosperity experienced in the postwar period?  Did trade with China in the early 2000s destroy jobs in manufacturing?

Most of all, this book focuses on the determinants of US trade policy.  I am just starting to make my way through it, highly recommended, readable too, and of course all of these issues matter more than you thought they were going to.  You can pre-order here.

1 prior_test3 July 31, 2017 at 7:42 am

‘Did high tariffs promote America’s industrialization in the nineteenth century?’

Shouldn’t that then be followed by something along the lines ‘In combination with America not recognizing other nation’s patents or copyrights?’ Because the combination was likely quite effective. if American history is any guide.

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2 Butler T. Reynolds July 31, 2017 at 9:30 am

Be careful with the passive voice, especially with government policy: Quite effective for whom?

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3 prior_test3 July 31, 2017 at 2:26 pm

‘America’s industrialization in the nineteenth century’

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4 Scott Mauldin August 1, 2017 at 12:02 pm

Technically speaking, that’s not passive voice.

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5 GoneWithTheWind July 31, 2017 at 10:51 am

The purpose of trade, as practiced, is to make a few people very rich. It requires that congressmen be bought and used and competitors be eliminated. A crisis like the great depression is simply another opportunity to misuse power for personal gain. Keynesian economics is the handmaiden to the process of using political power to enrich the few. If WW II had not occurred we would have struggled through another 11 years of the great depression before a complete collapse and a new start would have corrected the problem. There is no problem so bad that Keynesian economics and left wing politics cannot make it all worse.

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6 FYI July 31, 2017 at 12:28 pm

That is a way too simplistic way to think of this. Trade legislation, like every other legislation, is a mix of a lot of interests. Of course powerful people get their way, but that is not the “purpose” of trade. Furthermore, the power of trade is exactly that even with so many conflicting interests, it still manages to benefit the larger populace. I haven’t read the book, but I expect it to be a description of how much each one of the these legislations impacted the overall trend. Still, looking at our world today (compared to say, the 17th century) it is basically impossible to deny the long term benefits of trade to the whole world’s population.

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7 GoneWithTheWind July 31, 2017 at 3:28 pm

Of course it is simplistic as is every other post on a blog. Unless you write a book every comment must boil down to one or two points and barely touch the surface. Have you ever seen a long post that goes on for pages? Would you actually waste your time reading it.

Trade is indeed used to make a very small number of people wealthy and NOT for the benefit of the country. Are their benefits? Sure, mostly incidently. Trade has the ability to be a powerful tool for the benefit of the country/citizens. It should not be owned by a few wealthy people and laws and regulations bought by those wealthy people. Right now the U.S. is a 330 million buyer market to the world. Every U.S. company put out of business or forced to move offshore to compete hurts OUR economy but benefits someone. This makes no sense. We could cut taxes to productive citizens if we placed more taxes on imports. We could do a lot to improve our economy and to improve the lives of our citizens but more often all our efforts go back to making a handful of people wealthy. We should change that.

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8 dearieme July 31, 2017 at 9:32 am

“the determinants of US trade policy”: I suspect you’ll find they include money.

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9 Amber hina July 31, 2017 at 9:34 am

How did Jefferson’s trade embargo in 1808 affect the economy? Did high tariffs promote America’s industrialization in the nineteenth century? Did the Hawley-Smoot tariff of 1930 exacerbate or ameliorate the Great Depression?

Seriously I am not getting these Us policies.

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10 Charles July 31, 2017 at 9:42 am

“…the questions it covers include: …”

… a brief sample of Irwin’s “answers” to such questions would be more effective in selling his book.
Absence of any hint of substantive answers in this routine book-plug strongly suggests this book be ignored.

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11 Patrick July 31, 2017 at 9:53 am

Let me take a guess to the answers:
Not Much
Not Much
Exacerbate
Not Much
Not Much

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12 Ray Lopez July 31, 2017 at 10:33 am

I’ve read this author’s book on Smoot-Hawley, it was well written. He’s a good econ historian.

1) How did Jefferson’s trade embargo in 1808 affect the economy?  Given only 5M people at the time, most of them yeoman farmers, I’d say “Not Much”.
2) Did high tariffs promote America’s industrialization in the nineteenth century?  I think the orthodox answer is “Yes a bit”
3) Did the Hawley-Smoot tariff of 1930 exacerbate or ameliorate the Great Depression?  “Exacerbate” (Irwin’s earlier book)
4) Were liberal trade policies after World War II responsible for the economic prosperity experienced in the postwar period?  The orthodox answer is “yes”. I think the fact the USA was the only power left standing helped a lot however, more so than free trade (dead cat bounce).
5) Did trade with China in the early 2000s destroy jobs in manufacturing? In the USA, I think ‘yes’ but given manufacturing is in decline since the 1950s, probably inevitable. Recall “American Can” used to make cans, but around 1980 became a financial services firm (Prudential I believe).

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13 Ray Lopez July 31, 2017 at 10:35 am

Holy moly! American Can did not become Prudential, it morphed into….Citigroup! (Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Can_Company)

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14 Charles July 31, 2017 at 10:51 am

” He’s a good econ historian. ”

…and just how does one determine that somebody is a good econ historian?

Has anybody done anything of practical value to society with Irwin’s output?

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15 Ray Lopez July 31, 2017 at 10:56 am

Yes. Reputation amongst his peers. And because I say so. If you believe Herodotus, knowledge of history allows you to plan for the future, because history repeats itself; the first time as tragedy, the second time as _-_-_-_-_ (complete the sentence, and for bonus points the attribution, it’s somebody who was anticipated by the renaissance historian G. Vico (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giambattista_Vico)

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16 Brian Donohue July 31, 2017 at 11:15 am

The answer is ‘putative’, right? From the great Gummo Marx?

17 NatashaRostova August 1, 2017 at 1:21 pm

I studied his research methodology to write my MSc thesis, which I used as proof of my ability to be hired in the private sector. :^)

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18 Art Deco July 31, 2017 at 12:30 pm

I’m a high-seas Cuckold

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