Clashing over Commerce: A History of US Trade Policy

In This Review

Clashing over Commerce: A History of US Trade Policy
By Douglas A. Irwin
University of Chicago Press, 2017
832 pp.
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At a time when Washington’s approach to trade seems poised to undergo a significant shift, this magisterial book surveys the entire history of U.S. trade policy since the Colonial era, using congressional debates and actions to show how conflicting domestic economic interests have led Americans to clash repeatedly over trade. By the 1930s, the basic debate seemed to have been settled: ever since then, every U.S. president has publicly supported trade liberalization and negotiated trade agreements. According to Irwin, this policy has served the U.S. economy and the average American household extremely well. His book will serve as an authoritative reference on U.S. trade policy and its effects on trade patterns for years to come, and it usefully corrects several common misconceptions, such as the idea that Alexander Hamilton was a protectionist and that the Smoot-Hawley tariffs imposed in 1930 caused the Great Depression. The Trump administration’s controversial new tariffs on steel and aluminum, which rely on a little-used national security justification, even though they will hit U.S. allies the hardest, were announced after the book was published.

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