In This Review
Opening America's Market: U.S. Foreign Trade Policy Since 1776

Opening America's Market: U.S. Foreign Trade Policy Since 1776

By Alfred E. Eckes, Jr.

University Of North Carolina Press, 1995, 382 pp.

The author, a historian who served on the International Trade Commission (ITC) during the 1980s, is well placed to write a history of American trade policy, and this book contains much interesting, even fascinating, material. It usefully corrects some popular impressions on a number of points, such as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930 as a cause of the Great Depression, and Alexander Hamilton's protectionist leanings -- he supported America's first import tariff (averaging nine percent) mainly for revenue.

Unfortunately, the author falsely depicts the evolution of U.S. trade policy over the years as a struggle between the interests of domestic policy and the interests of foreign and defense policy, with the former generally dominating the century before 1934 and the latter dominating since 1934 (with some useful correction during his term at the ITC during the 1980s). Nowhere does Eckes discuss the real struggle over trade policy as viewed by economists for two centuries and by U.S. presidents since Herbert Hoover: between the here-and-now interests of particular economic sectors or firms and the general interests of Americans as consumers.

The book contains extensive references to archival material; but the author's use of it, and of other quoted material, is both selective and tendentious. Presidents since 1934 generally saw trade liberalization as good domestic as well as foreign policy, even when the domestic politics of liberalization were sometimes uncomfortable.