Amid much discussion of alternatives to Britain’s current relationship with Europe, the Canadian, Norwegian, and Swiss models have featured widely. But surprisingly little attention has been paid to the closest historical model of what Brexiteers might hail as ‘a free trade Europe’.
The first version of a ‘common market’ based on free trade treaties was created in Europe in the 1860s. Following the signing of the 1860 Anglo-French (Cobden-Chevalier) commercial treaty, a further 50-60 interlocking trade treaties were negotiated between European states, in effect creating a free trade area, the closest Europe got to a single market before the 1970s.
The economic benefits of this first common market are still contested by economic historians, but, as a model of a loose institutional framework it successfully lowered tariffs between participating states (only Russia of major European states remained outside it).
And at first glance this treaty network appears remarkably similar to the goals of those wishing to avoid a European super state in favour of simpler trade-based relationships. However, the fate of this model should be less than encouraging for the Leave campaign. Continue reading “Brexit, Free Trade, and the Perils of History”→
After last week’s post extolling the seemingly limitless avenues of historical inquiry offered through the study of globalization, it seems only fitting that I should now offer a somewhat contrary one on the limits of globalization.
Sycophantic proponents and adamant critics alike view globalization — the process of speeding up global integration via capital flows, markets, ideas, people, and technology — as an omnipresent and inexorable process. For devout acolytes from Richard Cobden to Thomas Friedman, it appears as a benign process that will one day make the world’s markets so interdependent that war itself will become anachronistic. For its harshest critics, and despite historical evidence and scholarship to the contrary, globalization remains an unstoppable force led by a secretive cabal of powerful multinational corporations hell-bent upon undermining national sovereignty in an endless search for profit. Continue reading “The Limits of Globalization”→