At the end of the 1960s, the trend toward a more open trade, especially among the Western nations, was reversed. As trading conditions have grown increasingly unstable, other national and international economic problems have become more difficult to deal with, and the level of acrimony in international relations has risen. Although many are worried by the rise of protectionism, few realize how far it has already gone. Most Americans seem to consider it a regrettable but still exceptional practice, a minor though spreading blemish on the network of predominantly liberal trade of which the United States is the undisputed paragon. We think mainly of Japan when we discuss protection.
In fact, a very large proportion of international trade is under some kind of nontariff restraint and moves only with the permission of the governments concerned, not in spontaneous response to market demand or at market-determined prices. This is a result of policies pursued by all governments, including ours. Widespread belief to the contrary notwithstanding, it is impossible to show that Japan is noticeably more protectionist than many other industrial countries; what can be shown is that Japan has accepted more restrictions on its exports than it has imposed on its imports. The trade restrictive and regulatory policies in force are so detailed and complex that their total effects on each nation are beyond the comprehension even of politicians, let alone of the public. The levels of this protection cannot be measured in any strict sense of the word, and even the very rough quantitative estimates that have been formed of them are not very meaningful.
Most people think of protection against imports almost exclusively in terms of tariffs. Tariffs are, however, only a minor part of the problem, as I shall try to show. Far more important are quantitative restrictions, devices by which governments determine a given amount--