The United States
"The business of America is business." So said Calvin Coolidge in 1925, 1 and it is just as true today. Generally speaking, Americans like to work. They are especially motivated when their hard work results in a higher standard of living. But direct cause-and-effect relationships are seldom clear in today's trading world. The way forward is not always what it appears to be. Besides, we can't achieve our objectives alone. The interdependencies are too great.
Before World War I, world trade grew at a rapid rate. This precipitated regional jealousies that ended in war. Afterwards, the United States sought to grow its economy somewhat in seclusion. It erected the Smoot-Hawley tariff and others against foreign goods. Other nations adopted reciprocal tariffs, and the world was plunged into a global recession. Some nations sought to recover through aggression, resulting in World War II. Made wiser by their predecessors' mistakes, the victorious allies tried to construct a peacetime economic system that was collaborative. Among their initiatives were the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, the United Nations, and particularly the Bretton Woods conference. The latter set the groundwork for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the GATT. There is no need to discuss them in detail here (some are addressed later), except to suggest that an interdependent world economic trading system can be traced to this source.
Of course the United States dominated the process, because it was the one major trading nation not seriously crippled by war. The rebuilding was spurred by American capital and know-how. But America has lost its position of hegemony. 2
On the other hand, the U.S. wields more influence than its single vote in the UN, the GAFT, or the WTO might suggest. Indeed, by being one of