Economic History of the United States

By Chester W. Wright | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXXVIII
MARKETING AND TRADE, DOMESTIC AND FOREIGN, SINCE 1860.--(Continued)

The Growth of Foreign Trade. The expansion of the export and import trade of the country during this period is indicated by the two charts on page 796, covering the period down to 1914 and since that date. To judge of changes in the physical volume, allowances must be made for changes in the general price level. Measured by value it will be seen that our foreign trade grew steadily up to about 1898; a more rapid expansion followed up to 1914; during the war it reached abnormal heights; after the subsequent reaction it still remained at a distinctly higher level than before the war. Throughout the period until the postwar years the value of the export trade tended to rise more rapidly than that of the import trade. This resulted in the shift from an unfavorable to a favorable trade balance about 1874 and a continued growth in this favorable balance thereafter till an abnormal peak was reached during the war.

It is evident that this expansion in the foreign trade reflected a growing importance of this activity in the economic life of the country, particularly as compared with the period from 1815 to 1845. No very satisfactory statistical measure of its importance is available but per capita figures for different periods are suggestive of the change taking place. (See the chart on page 439.) Between 1820 and 1845 the per capita value of exports had fluctuated around $6 or $7; imports were only a trifle greater in amount. A slight gain followed, which brought the figures to $10.61 and $11.25 respectively for 1860. During the 30-year period beginning in 1870, imports averaged $11.52 and exports $13.15 per capita. Though the price level was falling during these years the figures showed no marked trends away from these averages.

With the present century a distinct upward trend appears, exports rising to $23.44 and imports to $19.18 per capita in 1914. Allowing for an advance of about 50 per cent in the wholesale price level during these years, it is clear that a marked growth in the volume of foreign trade was taking place. It is interesting to note, however, that at this time, just before the disturbances caused by the war, our foreign trade measured on a per capita value basis was far below that of the leading industrial nations of western Europe. As compared with a total for the United States of less than $43 per capita, that of France was estimated at $54, of Ger

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