Tuesday, October 09, 2007

New Book on 19th Century Mercantile Protection

Nick Gillespie write ‘French Wine and the Fable of Free-Trade Britain', a review and interview with John V. C. Nye, author of War, Wine, and Taxes: The Political Economy of Anglo-French Trade, 1689-1900, in the reasononline blog.

John V.C. Nye debunks the conventional wisdom that Britain was a free-trade nation during the 19th century. If you look at actual trade policy rather than the self-aggrandizing pronouncements of politicians and ideologues, argues Nye, Britain remained a bastion of protectionism and mercantilism throughout the century. In comparison, France, often derided by contemporary free-marketers, was wide open to trade. In concise and eminently readable prose, he tells a story in which well-connected special interests and government officials joined forces to line their own pockets while reducing the choices available to consumers.

In answering the question, "Why do the British drink beer and not wine?," Nye not only advances our understanding of the past, he shows how economic policy can often have a major effect not just on trade but on national identity.’

I have long suspected from what I know of British 19th century politics, national economics policy, and the mercantile political economy of colonies, which under various British governments drifted into imperialism that the free trade rhetoric of that century was somewhat suspect, if not actually phoney.
Hence, I commend the interview to you (here).

Adam Smith exposed mercantile political economy and the failures of colonialism for diverting scarce capital into lines of activity it may not have gone into in the absence of such policies. The cost was to impact on the rate of prgress of society from subsistence towards opulence for the labouring order.


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