Not Just Small Change

Article excerpt

Without a definite beginning and with no foreseeable end, international trade is undoubtedly one of the most intriguing phenomena of the 21st century. Perhaps the origins of international trade lie in the Industrial Revolution that began in Great Britain, when production shifted from agriculture to manufacturing. Western European countries started to rely on trade to provide raw materials for production. A gradual move to "freer" trade followed; countries gradually reduced tariffs and opened up their markets to the world after Britain's historic 1846 repeal of its Corn Laws. Since then, international trade has undoubtedly had its ups--Bretton Woods institutional formations, successful tariff reductions in WTO meetings--and its downs--the Asian financial crisis and the Arab oil embargo. But where do we go from here?

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Many have argued that globalization and international trade are indisputable facts; the question now is no longer "should we trade?" but "how should we trade?" Such scholars point to the rapid influx of new technologies that level the economic playing field and to the new venues of communication that allow states and corporations to be more connected than ever before. Others point to the idea of free trade itself as a stimulant; partly due to the influence of Adam Smith's seminal work The Wealth of Nations, policymakers were moved to implement laissez-faire policies that reaped the benefits of comparative advantage and maximized state's resources.

If international trade is accepted as inevitable, how can it and its future best be understood? Academics have long sought to understand its multifaceted implications. Some optimists believe that adding new dimensions to international trade will lead to the obsolescence of war, because conquering another state by force will cease to be advantageous. Most resources are now in markets, and so nations find cooperation to be in their best interest rather than conquest. Others believe that international trade will have a profound impact in forming systems of governance. These theorists expect free market ideas, including international trade, to lead to liberal democratic states to maximize economic efficiency and the accumulation of wealth. Still others believe international trade has significant social implications, including the popularly titled "culture exportation" or convergence of domestic norms. …

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