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Gilded Age Foreign Policy: Any Lessons for the Present?

[ 137 ] August 14, 2012 |

Marc-William Palen provides a response of sorts to my connections between the Gilded Age and today, as well as others who have made the comparison such as Paul Krugman. Palen attempts to draw the comparisons out to foreign policy, but the piece is rather problematic on a number of levels.

Palen makes two major points. First, that unlike today’s “imperialists,” Gilded Age capitalists opposed imperialism. Second, our current foreign policy is moving toward the protectionism that crippled the American economy during the first Gilded Age, something Palen very much decries.

Neither of these points really hold up under scrutiny. The first takes a lot of cherry-picking. Yes, some mugwumps opposed imperialism. But by and large, Gilded Age capitalists were completely fine with imperialism. Let’s remember that the one president in the Gilded Age with a meaningful anti-imperialist policy was the Democrat Grover Cleveland. But William McKinley, that icon of the Gilded Age, was the president who okayed the annexation of Hawaii and oversaw the Spanish-American War. The administration of Benjamin Harrison, with Republican leader James Blaine as Secretary of State, very much pushed America’s imperialist agenda abroad, including trying to tie Hawaii to the United States. Younger Republicans such as Henry Cabot Lodge and Theodore Roosevelt were die-hard imperialists; if they are known as men of the Progressive Era, they were very much tied into the politics and society of the Gilded Age.

So it’s really hard to make an argument that the Gilded Age capitalists did not support imperialism. Some did not, most did. I realize Palen is trying to focus on the free-traders within the Republican Party during those years, but that’s just not a dominant force within the Republican Party at that time, limiting the argument’s power.

Perhaps the real take-away from this point is to ask what difference it makes. I drew connections between the Gilded Age and modern America because we see corporations and the Republican Party concretely attempting to recreate the former period in the 21st century. But that doesn’t mean that every part of the Gilded Age corresponds to today and I don’t really see much comparison between Gilded Age foreign policy and the present.

This is especially true when we get to Palen’s second point–that we are entering a new period of protectionism. There’s just no evidence for this. All Palen has is Obama attacking Romney for sending jobs to China and Romney blathering about starting a trade war with China. But this is just a political weapon in a campaign. There’s absolutely zero evidence that Obama doesn’t support globalization in its present form. He’s pushing for new free trade agreements around the globe. And there’s no way Romney is actually going to start a trade war with China. The two major political parties agree on little, but free trade capitalism is one of them. There might be a few people on the edges of both parties’ Congressional delegations that disagree, but they are isolated.

Without a bad economy with long-term unemployment for people without college educations, this would be a non-issue in the presidential campaign. Neither political party will even begin to edge toward protectionism, regardless of who wins in November. Palen just doesn’t provide any hard evidence for this point.

To be clear, I personally see a problem with this bipartisan consensus. I think that we need at least some manufacturing in this nation and that the decline of union jobs in this country is a terrible thing. While I am not exactly supportive of 19th century protectionism, I think Palen’s language is quite telling. How exactly is protectionism a terrible thing for society? It is true that it would make consumer goods more expensive. But is a consumer economy the only legitimate goal for our society? Couldn’t solid unionized jobs with dignity but not a ton of consumer choices be equally legitimate?

Either way, it doesn’t really matter because my beliefs are fringe ideas within mainstream modern American political discourse. The Gilded Age might have a lot to teach us about modern America, but I remain unconvinced on Palen’s foreign policy argument, particularly since it is clearly driven by a fundamentalist view of free-market capitalism rooted in unfettered free trade.

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  1. David Kaib says:

    All true, although I’d say we have plenty of ‘protectionism’ – it just protects those at the top, as Dean Baker says.

    • Heron says:

      I agree with Baker on that point, though we’ve certainly seen some off-shoring of high-end legal jobs of late. However that isn’t the end of US “protectionism”. Certain industries, like steel and agriculture, receive huge subsidies and benefit from a government willing to use WTO arbitration to harass their foreign competitors. Defense procurements, and government contracts generally, go almost entirely to domestic firms, though you’ll rarely see ideological free-traders denounce that. Then there is the US copyright system; where copyrights can be extended nigh-infinitely, where vagueness and non-production are no bar to exclusivity, where courts are willing to redefine fair-use to suit the whims of interested industries, and where the US government is not only willing to sick the Justice Department on people for sharing material they’ve legally purchased with others, but also willing to use its police powers to enforce copyrights anywhere else on the planet, regardless of local laws.

  2. djw says:

    Yeah, the gap between the claim that we live in an era when politicians engage in vaguely protectionist rhetoric is true enough, but the gap between that and entering a new protectionist era is substantial.

  3. I really don’t think it’s accurate to say “protectionism that crippled the American economy during the first Gilded Age.” In fact, I think the evidence is stronger for the opposite.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      I more or less let that go, but it’s pretty clear the real problem with the American economy during the Gilded Age was unregulated and corrupt capitalism.

    • Bruce Wilder says:

      Protectionism was a huge boon for the U.S. economy in the Gilded Age. McKinley was popular enough to get elected in 1896, because he was associated with a policy of protective tariffs, which then became the signature policy of the Republican Party thoughout the period of its dominance (thru 1930). It was when the Republicans pushed the same protectionist policy as a response to the Great Depression, when it was irrelevant, that protectionism got a bad name.

      In the 1880s and 1890s, protective tariffs contributed to the broadening and deepening of American manufacturing, by skimming the cream of British economic rents. In case after case, a protective tariff helped a U.S. industry take off, and swung the terms of trade in American favor.

      By the 1920s, of course, the U.S. was on top in a big way, in all the new industries of autos, petroleum, telephones, movies, electricity, and free trade made much more sense (for basically the same reasons, it made sense for Britain, Workshop of the World, circa 1840).

      That we don’t think clearly about the advisability of tariffs, and that we don’t think in terms of economic rents and the terms of trade, is a clear indication of how useless conventional economics is.

  4. DocAmazing says:

    San Francisco’s full of streets, parks and buildings named for Gilded Age capitalists who just loved ‘em some imperialism, like Spreckels and Hearst. eck, I think that’s the only kind we had here.

  5. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    When I was in grad school about two decades ago, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., gave a talk that warned about a new isolationism. This seemed like a totally implausible fear to me. But I’ve since come to realize that fearmongering about, e.g., protectionism, isolationism, and inflation–none of which are actually very serious threats–are ways in which the bipartisan power elite define the limits of acceptable public debate.

  6. tt says:

    I don’t think Palen is claiming that Gilded Age capitalists in general opposed imperialism, just Mugwumps in particular. I agree that this doesn’t seem relevant to today.

  7. Manju says:

    Erik, Paul Krugman would tell you that you have the immigration part completely flipped.

    First, restrictions on immigration did not help Gilded Age policies, but rather New Deal ones. Why?

    “…open immigration can’t coexist with a strong social safety net; if you’re going to assure health care and a decent income to everyone, you can’t make that offer global.”

    -Paul Krugman

    Secondly, mass low-skilled immigration correlates with income inequity (within our borders, at least) a feature of the old gilded age and of the great divergence of today. Paul Krugman again:

    “…it’s clear that the earlier wave of immigration increased inequality and depressed the wages of the less skilled. For example, a recent study by Jeffrey Williamson, a Harvard economic historian, suggests that in 1913 the real wages of unskilled U.S. workers were around 10 percent lower than they would have been without mass immigration.”

    Why? Simple, according to Krugman:

    “…immigration reduces the wages of domestic workers who compete with immigrants. That’s just supply and demand: we’re talking about large increases in the number of low-skill workers relative to other inputs into production, so it’s inevitable that this means a fall in wages…the general point seems impossible to deny.”

    So, part of the reason we are seeing an increase in income inequality is because of low-skilled immigration. Also, the New Deal was successful in part because of the restrictions:

    “…the restrictions on immigration imposed in the 1920s had the unintended effect of paving the way for the New Deal and sustaining its achievements, by creating a fully enfranchised working class.”

    -Paul Krugman

    Those are the facts.

    • Cody says:

      I think protectionism is a very touchy subject. In the right amounts, I believe it’s clearly a positive. It helps with things such as the New Deal, as you argue.

      Of course, too much and you’ve made a state with complete power. I’m curious about the development of a policy in regards to this issue. Erik seems to fairly clearly state that he is not in favor of free trade agreements, but is this even a form of protectionism or simply not engaging in the opposite?

      • Manju says:

        Cody,

        Protectionism usually refers to trade. I’m referring to Erik’s views on immigration.

        Regarding trade, Paul Krugman tells us that under most circumstances jobs lost are offset by jobs gained. An exception would be a liquidy trap.

        Regarding distribution due to trade, Paul Krugman tells us that theoretically,

        “When a country with a highly skilled labor force increases its trade with a country in which skill is at a greater premium, it can expect a decline in the real wages of its own unskilled workers”

        However, for most of the great divergence:

        “All the evidence suggests, however, that this effect will be extremely small.”

        But alas, imports form poor countries have increased dramatically in the last decade. Krugman is revising the subject and believes that the distribution effects have grown.

        So, that’s where the data takes us in regards to immigration and trade.

    • What “immigration part” does Erik have “flipped?” There is nothing about immigration anywhere in the post.

      • Hogan says:

        There may be some confusion about what “protectionism” means.

      • Manju says:

        What “immigration part” does Erik have “flipped?” There is nothing about immigration anywhere in the post.

        He referenced his “connections between the Gilded Age and today” in the post. If you follow the link, you will see this:

        8. Anti-Immigration Fervor

        • Hogan says:

          Yes, but he didn’t say any of what you say he said, like “restrictions on immigration helped Gilded Age policies.”

          • Manju says:

            Yes, but he didn’t say any of what you say he said, like “restrictions on immigration helped Gilded Age policies.”

            Erik cited “Anti-Immigration Fervor” as one of the ” 8 Ways America’s Headed Back to the Robber-Baron Era.”

            In contrast, Paul Krugman says, “restrictions on immigration imposed in the 1920s had the unintended effect of paving the way for the New Deal.

            Krugman has the correlation correct, because he is informed by the data. Erik is in liberal happy land.

            • Hogan says:

              Anti-immigration fervor occurred in the Robber Baron era, and led to legal restrictions. Anti-immigration fervor is also a feature of the present, and may or may not lead to legal restrictions. What happens as a downstream result of the fervor is neither here nor there for purposes of Erik’s argument.

              • DrDick says:

                Hell, anti-immigrant fervor goes back to the 1830s, with the influx of Irish and later Germans, well before the Robber Barons.

                • Hogan says:

                  There’s more in some periods than in others. The 1830s were a peak period; so were the 1880s and 1920s, and unlike the 1830s, it was a big enough deal that we passed laws about it.

                • Manju says:

                  Erik understands the difference between fervor and legislation. I’m pretty sure Paul Krugman does too. Do you?

                  Krugman doesn’t bother distinguishing afak, but its safe to say that he believes that fervor leads to legislation. But he also believes the legislation led to the New Deal, despite opposing the former and supporting the latter.

                  Erik cites Anti-Immigration Fervor as 1 of the “8 Ways America’s Headed Back to the Robber-Baron Era”. But if said fervor leads to legislation, the correlation works in the opposite direction, as Paul Krugman points out in regards to the ’24 Act. He also cites the data regarding the correlation between immigration and income inequality.

                  So, in order to square Erik with Paul, we need a scenario where there is fervor but no restrictions on immigration. Such a scenario may be possible if mass low-skilled immigration continues unabated in the face of fervor… leading to a depression of wages among the natives and an increase in income inequality. In other words, a Gilded Age.

                  But Erik doesn’t go there. He goes right to the legislation, ie to the action that lead to the opposite of the very scenario he is predicting.

                • Hogan says:

                  So you’re not responding to what Erik said; you’re responding to what you wanted him to say you could do the Krugman dance. Got it.

                • Manju says:

                  So you’re not responding to what Erik said; you’re responding to what you wanted him to say you could do the Krugman dance. Got it.

                  I am responding to Erik’s piece by way of Krugman. I use Krugman for the same reason I use DW-Nominate (Krugman actually introduced me to it). I use the highest level source I can find and one that is within the ideological comfort zone of my opponents.

                  If your interpretation of Erik is correct, its unclear how fervor leads to a gilded age while legislation leads to the opposite. There’s a disconnect here.

                  I believe Erik is not aware of the disconnect and provided quotes from nobel prize winning economist to substantiate my position.

                • Hogan says:

                  its unclear how fervor leads to a gilded age while legislation leads to the opposite.

                  Yeah, I’ve never heard of misdiagnoses of economic problems or unintended consquences either. Maybe DW-Nominate can explain them to me.

                • Hogan says:

                  he believes that fervor leads to legislation.

                  I would venture a guess that like everyone who thinks about it for more than three seconds, he believes that fervor can lead to legislation, but doesn’t always. See above re: 1830s. Lots of fervor, no legislation.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  So, just so we are clear: Erik points to the legislation enacted during the Gilded Age, and parallelled today, and your big objection is that (arguably) the 1924 legislation had unintended consequences. And you have drug this trivial point out over dozens of comments.

                  Alrighty then. Trolling well and truly accomplished.

                • Manju says:

                  Erik points to the legislation enacted during the Gilded Age, and parallelled today, and your big objection is that (arguably) the 1924 legislation had unintended consequences.

                  The data not only indicates that the restrictions helped the New Deal, but that mass low-skilled immigration gives us characteristics associated with the Gilded Age: income inequality and a depression of low-skilled wages.

                  “it’s clear that the earlier wave of immigration increased inequality and depressed the wages of the less skilled. For example, a recent study by Jeffrey Williamson, a Harvard economic historian, suggests that in 1913 the real wages of unskilled U.S. workers were around 10 percent lower than they would have been without mass immigration.”

                  -Paul Krugman

                  So, Erik really has the correlation flipped.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Okay, small words. 1924 was the Gilded Age. 1924 saw immigration restrictions. Erik never mentioned the later consequences, because they are completely fucking irrelevant to his point, which is that in the Brave New Gilded Age of today, we see similar laws. What those laws may result in 20 years from now is something that you and only you seem to find relevant. It may be an interesting question, but it isn’t actually the question under discussion.

                  Keep fucking that walrus.

                • Manju says:

                  Yeah, I’ve never heard of misdiagnoses of economic problems or unintended consquences either. Maybe DW-Nominate can explain them to me.

                  Ha! Actually it does. After pointing out how immigration depresses wages, krugman then says:

                  But the straight economics was the least of it. Much more important was the way immigration diluted democracy.

                  This he got from the Nominate guys, one of whom is at Princeton with him.

                  So, anyway…I start reading this dw-nom stuff because I’m libertarian and therefore don’t see a problem with income inequality. I mean, hey, we immigrants are better off with it.

                  But the way I roll is to read those I disagree with. I’m open to being convinced. So I’m facing this book thinking its going to be like going to the dentist (they are going to painfully deconstruct my position). I have no idea that they are even going to mention civil rights. Then boom! I hit this:

                  http://voteview.com/images/polar_house_means.jpg

                  Unexpectedly, I’m handed pristine data that makes a case I used to make anecdotally: that the liberal narrative of civil rights being about ideology is a load of bunk.

                  What a charmed life I lead.

                  But yes, DW-Nominate helps explain how immigration leads to the gilded age.

                • Manju says:

                  Okay, small words. 1924 was the Gilded Age. 1924 saw immigration restrictions.

                  Actually, DrDick of all people unwittingly knocked this one down nicely:

                  Actually, the facts are that there were no restrictions on immigration (other than the Chinese Exclusion Act) during the Gilded Age. Of course I do not expect you to know anything about American history, as you have so amply demonstrated here in the past.

                  -DrDick

                • Hogan says:

                  The DW-Nominate thing is starting to remind me of the joke about the drunk who’s walking around a streetlight and peering intently.

                  Someone comes up and asks, “What are you looking for?”

                  “I lost my keys in that alley over there.”

                  “Then why aren’t you looking in the alley?”

                  “The light’s better here.”

                • timb says:

                  John Adams talked about the anti-French hysteria in Philadelphia….xenophobia has a long history amongst the precious elite white folks in this country.

                  Manju is an incontinent, pointless contrarian

              • Manju says:

                What happens as a downstream result of the fervor is neither here nor there for purposes of Erik’s argument.

                Well Erik found the legislation important enough to mention…

                Fearing these immigrants would never assimilate, Americans looked to bar their entry. Beginning with the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 and continuing through the Immigration Act of 1924, the country slowly closed its doors to the world’s tired and hungry.

                …as one of the “8 Ways America’s Headed Back to the Robber-Baron Era”

                But as DrDick points out:

                the facts are that there were no restrictions on immigration (other than the Chinese Exclusion Act) during the Gilded Age.

                Krugman goes further. One of the very Acts that Erick cites as leading to a Gilded Age actually paved “the way for the New Deal.”

                • Hogan says:

                  Oh for fuck sake. Erik didn’t say the Chinese Exclusion Act led to the Gilded Age. He said the Gilded Age led to the Chinese Exclusion Act.

                • Hogan says:

                  Erik understands the difference between fervor and legislation. I’m pretty sure Paul Krugman does too. Do you?

    • DrDick says:

      Actually, the facts are that there were no restrictions on immigration (other than the Chinese Exclusion Act) during the Gilded Age. Of course I do not expect you to know anything about American history, as you have so amply demonstrated here in the past.

  8. bradp says:

    It looks a lot more like mercantilism, domestic and foreign policy.

    • DrDick says:

      No, just true capitalism as it has always been and always will be outside of the libertarian fantasy world.

      • bradp says:

        Blah, blah, blah.

        When you got some system of resource distribution that serves a society of hundreds of millions that doesn’t rely heavily on private property, throw it at me.

        Every one that tried something else crashed and burned, some after the deaths of tens of millions.

        • Malaclypse says:

          So, now you are redefining capitalism as any economic system that recognizes private property?

          That’s, um, broad.

          • DrDick says:

            You know how it works with libertarians and goal posts when they start losing an argument.

          • NonyNony says:

            Apparently mixed economies and unfettered laissez faire capitalism are exactly the same thing. Who knew?

            • Holden Pattern says:

              Nobody in Yurp owns anything, especially not in Norway or Sweden. True story!

            • bradp says:

              DrDick said that current economic and foreign policy, which I said was reminiscent of mercantilism, was “true capitalism as it has always been and always will be outside of the libertarian fantasy world”.

              Now even Paul Ryan doesn’t support “unfettered laissez-faire” and is pretty big on a mixed economy when it stabilizes profits at the corporate level.

              I did not introduce the terms “true capitalism”, “mixed-economy”, or “laissez-faire” to this discussion. I said our economic model is mercantilist, which is not laissez-faire. It is a “mixed-economy”.

              • Malaclypse says:

                I said our economic model is mercantilist

                You think our economic model is based on ensuring a positive balance of trade?

                Or do you not actually know what mercantilism is?

                • bradp says:

                  Positive trade balances were an ad-hoc justification for the burgeoning power of the mercantile class and the government protection of their interests.

                • elm says:

                  Um, wow. We discover yet another term that brad doesn’t understand. Mercantalism isn’t just the protection of the mercantile class. It’s an economic theory and set of policies that include, at its core, the view that exports enrich a country and imports (often) harm it.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Okay, so you don’t understand the term. Good to know.

                • DrDick says:

                  Okay, so you don’t understand the term.

                  No, no, no! You just do not understand. Words mean exactly what libertarians say they do and nothing else.

                • wengler says:

                  Crap goes in, gold comes out…Mercantilism!

                  Unlike American libertarianism. Gold goes in, nothing comes out…because GOLD!!!111!one

                • Positive trade balances were an ad-hoc justification for the burgeoning power of the mercantile class and the government protection of their interests.

                  Brad is referencing the think tanks.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  So, Antonin – if that is your real name, and if you are not someone merely peddling Mordor’s Eru-awful cell service – Brad is still operating within an ersatz-Marxist theory of knowledge where it is false consciousness and turtles all the way down, and he still can’t define capitalism usefully.

              • Hogan says:

                if that is your real name, and if you are not someone merely peddling Mordor’s Eru-awful cell service

                Not that this has anything to do with me (i.e., Hogan), but Antonin Scalia would totally do that.

          • bradp says:

            THen let me change “private property” with “private control of capital”.

            When you got some system of resource distribution that serves a society of hundreds of millions that doesn’t rely heavily on private control of capital, throw it at me.

        • DocAmazing says:

          And the one that does rely heavily on private property might well be crashing and burning, and no one has bothered to tally the dead, but it’s a pretty big number.

          • DrDick says:

            Much higher in fact than all of the communist systems combined. Of course we don’t count slaves, indigenous peoples, colonial subjects, or actual workers in libertarian calculus. what is it that they say about the transpacific railway, that one man died for every mile through the Sierras and the Rockies? Anybody want to look at the death tolls in the coal mines or on construction of the hydroelectric damns in the US?

            • The Congo Free State says:

              I’m private property. All of me. What could go wrong?

            • bradp says:

              we don’t count slaves, indigenous peoples, colonial subjects,

              What reasonable person would considering no alternative would have corrected those problems?

              If only Chairman Mao would have been around to free the slaves and put his foot down about the treatment of indiginous people and colonial subjects.

              • Spuddie says:

                What reasonable person would considering no alternative would have corrected those problems?

                Not enslaving indigenous peoples

                Paying them fair value for their lands and resources,

                Not subjecting their people to cultural eradication

                Not intentionally inflaming ethnic divisions

                Recognizing the right of self-determination

                Just off the top of my head.

                Y’know the things we are supposed to do with other nations as a democratic nation which extols personal liberties.

                • bradp says:

                  Those are all laudable goals, but my point is that capitalism was not responsible for those ills, as no alternate political economic model would have produced a better result.

                • DrDick says:

                  Yes, capitalism is responsible for those ills, since it caused them. You do not get to erase the history you do not like.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Ahem.

                  Colonial system, public debts, heavy taxes, protection, commercial wars, &c., these children of the true manufacturing period, increase gigantically during the infancy of Modem Industry. The birth of the latter is heralded by a great slaughter of the innocents. Like the royal navy, the factories were recruited by means of the press-gang. Blasé as Sir F. M. Eden is as to the horrors of the expropriation of the agricultural population from the soil, from the last third of the 15th century to his own time; with all the self-satisfaction with which he rejoices in this process, “essential” for establishing capitalistic agriculture and “the due proportion between arable and pasture land” — he does not show, however, the same economic insight in respect to the necessity of child-stealing and child-slavery for the transformation of manufacturing exploitation into factory exploitation, and the establishment of the “true relation” between capital and labour-power…

                  Tantae molis erat, to establish the “eternal laws of Nature” of the capitalist mode of production, to complete the process of separation between labourers and conditions of labour, to transform, at one pole, the social means of production and subsistence into capital, at the opposite pole, the mass of the population into wage labourers, into “free labouring poor,” that artificial product of modern society. If money, according to Augier, “comes into the world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek,” capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.

              • DrDick says:

                Capitalism as we know is built on those abuses and would have been impossible without them. You have to factor that into the costs of the capitalist system. It is also the case that these abuses are ongoing and vital to modern capitalism as well.

                • DrDick says:

                  A couple of examples of that ongoing heritage of capitalist abuse (beyond what Erik has documented in his labor posts). Forced labor and human trafficking are both growth industries given the immutable logic of capitalism which transforms everything into a commodity.

  9. John says:

    But is a consumer economy the only legitimate goal for our society? Couldn’t solid unionized jobs with dignity but not a ton of consumer choices be equally legitimate?

    Is this actually a practical possibility? Can you provide any examples of this working in practice?

    And what, exactly, is the extent of the departure from free trade you are proposing?

    • MPAVictoria says:

      “Can you provide any examples of this working in practice?”

      How about every single industrialized country in the world?

      • firefall says:

        Honestly, I cant think of a single industrialized country that that describes – they’re pretty much ALL consumer economies, which is not to say they don’t have decent levels of unionisation and the recognition that this is a legitimate form of organisation, unlike the USA.

        • You seem to be confusing “having a strong consumer sector” with “basing your economy around the consumer sector.”

          • John says:

            Everyone seems to be getting away from the fact that this was not a discussion about unionization, but about free trade. Other industrialized countries certainly have stronger organized labor than the United States.

            But has this been achieved through protectionist policies? My understanding was that neo-liberalism and free trade was a pretty universal elite position throughout the industrialized world. That’s not to say that various industrialized countries (including the United States) don’t pursue protectionist policies, but I’d be interested in specific examples of the use of protectionist policies to prop up a decreasingly competitive domestic manufacturing sector.

            • burritoboy says:

              On the level of elite political discussion, yes, the global elite will nearly universally bleat support of free trade. But that’s not where the real action is: it’s in the micro-trade regulations and intricacies of how industries are organized. In that respect, some countries are strongly protectionist, while others are significantly more free trade.

            • NonyNony says:

              My understanding of history is that the elites are historically for free trade where free trade makes them money and for protectionism where protectionism makes them money.

              History seems to emphasize the Liberal elite position on free trade as being an ideological ideal, but that seems to be more a function of wanting to pin emerging Liberalism down to a bullet point list of ideals instead of a more general movement where rich non-aristocrats wanted to push for a system where wealth was more important than birthright in deciding who held the power.

              And my read on current events says that generally the same thing is true, except that with the rise of global corporations there are fewer places where the elites make money on protectionist policies over free trade ones.

            • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: talking about this in terms of “free-trade” is in many ways itself the problem. After all, pretty much no one is really opposed to free trade outright (and yes, I suppose I could be wrong, but I don’t think very many people, if anyone, has a problem with the free exchange of goods between the U.S. and, say, Germany or Norway or Italy). What we really talk about when we talk about “free trade” is northern corporations exploiting the human and environmental resources of poorer countries, which is quite a different matter entirely.

        • Bill Murray says:

          you think being a consumer economy was the only legitimate goal of the US during the New Deal era and western Europe post WW2?

          That is really a post Nixon idea in the US

    • The United States in the 1950s-1970s.

      • firefall says:

        beep! try again please. The USA in the 50s-70s wasnt a consumerist society? please.

        For that matter, while unionisation then was higher than now, it didn’t have that many unionised jobs, and by and large they weren’t granted dignity, but spasmodically harangued as communist, criminal and ‘anti-american’, whatever that means.

        • A little more nuance, please. This is not a yes-no question.

          It was a society with much less consumer choice and many more industrial jobs.

          by and large they weren’t granted dignity, but spasmodically harangued as communist, criminal and ‘anti-american’, whatever that means

          When one discusses “unionized jobs with dignity,” one is generally not talking about words and feelings, but about material conditions – about workers earning enough money to live dignified lives, out of poverty.

        • Bill Murray says:

          the only legitimate goal (which is what the original comment state) of the US was not consumerism during that time

      • John says:

        Well, I meant a society today, but I’m not sure that works. America in the 50s and 60s worked that way not because of protectionism, but because of a fast vanishing industrial advantage created by World War II. Especially in the 50s, the US was simply so far ahead of anywhere else in the world in manufacturing that there was no real competition. I’m not sure what lessons that offers for the world today.

    • I think it suffers from a problem with false dichotomy, at least if we’re talking about the broader scope.

    • bradp says:

      I’m all for jobs with dignity, unionized or otherwise.

      However, when you start talking about limited consumer choice, you are also talking about limited suppliers/producers.

      The lesser the amount of choices consumers are presented with, the more likely that the supplier will be in an advantageous position to the consumer (who is also the wage earner).

    • elm says:

      France, certainly pre-EU would qualify here. Their agricultural policy greatly inflated food prices and reduced variety for consumers in order to protect French farmers and their industrial trade policy, while not as extreme, also was much more protectionist that, say, the U.S.s, UK’s or Germany’s. The EU customs union has forced France to reduce their industrial tariffs a good deal (though Germany and Britain had to raise there’s some as a result) but France also managed to extend their agricultural policy to all of the EU.

      S. Korea and Taiwan in the 80s also had fairly high domestic tariffs while taking advantage of free trade in their export markets. (This part of the ‘Asian Dragon’ story, paired with Korea and Taiwan’s heavy subsidization of chosen industries, tends to get ignored in the IMF/World Bank/Washington Consensus version of the story, where their success was all neo-liberalism all the time.)

      • Spuddie says:

        South Korea and Taiwan’s economic success had much more to do with political liberalization than protectionist policies. Both countries were ruled by the same parties since the 50′s (1949 for Taiwan) and were virtually dictatorships. [South Koreans were notorious for the violent nature of its political protests]

        It was in the 90′s that both countries really took off economically. After the Asian currency meltdown of 1997, Japan’s semi-oligarchic economy was brought to a standstill. South Korea adapted by breaking up/selling off parts of its huge Japanese style mega-conglomerates (Chaebols) and creating tighter regulatory conditions. Korean products were rare in the US in the 80′s compared to their ubiquity today.

        Taiwan, was never impacted the same way as the rest of Asia due to the de-centralized nature of its industry. Having few large multinational corporations was able to whether the impact more easily.

        • elm says:

          I don’t disagree with this. My point was that, 1., that Korea and Taiwan built successful economies that were not based on domestic consumer interests; and, 2. that the Washington Consensus held up S. Korea and Taiwan as examples of their neo-liberal policies being successful while ignoring those parts of their policies that were not neo-liberal (the heavy industrial policy being a bigger issue, in my mind, then the protection.)

  10. All Palen has is Obama attacking Romney for sending jobs to China and Romney blathering about starting a trade war with China. But this is just a political weapon in a campaign.

    Certainly. Bill Clinton attacked George H. W. Bush for cozying up to China. This was shortly before he signed NAFTA and supported MFN status for China.

    • Bill Murray says:

      thereby making the old idea that the Democratic party stood for economics favorable to the working class much more difficult to sell to the working class

      • You think that it is more difficult to sell that idea now than it was during the era of the Reagan Democrats?

        I have my doubts.

        • Bill Murray says:

          it is in the Middle West.

          • Bill Murray says:

            to add, that when I was in my teens and 20s (late 70s, early 80s) most of the people I knew would balance economic and social concerns when considering for whom to vote. After the mid-90s this was no longer the case and social concerns dominated. Not that Democrats couldn’t get elected statewide but they mostly run on being just like the Republicans but more competent

          • The middle west was much harder for the Democrats during the Reagan years than it is today.

            Use this site to compare the Electoral College maps from 1980, 1984, and 1988 to those from 2004 and 2008.

            The industrial midwest is much, much friendlier to the Democrats now than it was before NAFTA.

  11. Left_Wing_Fox says:

    God, I only _wish_ there were a discussion about consistent tariffs linked to the federal minimum wage, let alone compliance with international environmental treaties. If a shoe costs $5 of labor at the minimum wage in the US, and $1 to make in Mexico, slap a $4 tariff on the shoe. This should not be that difficult.

    I feel like I should start printing out handbills and writing letters to the editor like a crank.

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