Some Origins of the Modern Economic World

By E. A. J. Johnson; Ernest Teilhac | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI PROTECTION AND THE TRANSPLANTATION OF INDUSTRIALISM

I

Protective tariffs, against which British merchants, manufacturers, and trade unions, fought their long and bitter battle, had no place in the capitalist economic theory derived from the writings of Smith,1 Malthus, and Ricardo. Yet, paradoxically, almost all industrial countries today regard protection as necessary; even England has abandoned her Victorian faith in free trade! Indeed, such a dogmatic belief in the desirability of protection now prevails in the leading industrial nations that all efforts to restore greater freedom of international trade seem futile. From whence came this worship of protection which pervades the modern world? The industrial history of the United States and of Germany holds the key to the riddle.

Two rather important events occurred in 1776: the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the publication of the Wealth of Nations. Nor was this a mere coincidence. The former asserted that England's commercial policy operated to the disadvantage of the American colonies, the latter pronounced this very policy pernicious to the English people themselves. Both documents demanded greater economic freedom, both exalted natural law and individualism. Yet one made possible the political framework within which a variety of capitalism that relied upon protection was to flourish, the other provided the philosophical framework for a kind of capitalism which deified free trade. Why the difference?

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1
Adam Smith had sanctioned the use of tariffs for offsetting internal taxes, for developing industries necessary for national defense, and for purposes of retaliation against nations that excluded English exports. Aside from these spheres of usefulness, import duties, in his opinion, were harmful and undesirable.

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