New @ExeterCIGH Book Featured in Financial Times

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Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

The post-Second-World-War liberal economic order has never looked more uncertain. Over the past few months, the long-dormant forces of protectionism, nationalism, populism, and xenophobia have been reawakened. Free trade is under attack, whether from Donald Trump’s protectionist presidential campaign or from the outcome of the Brexit referendum. Extreme nationalism is on the rise, not only in the US and the UK, but also in continental Europe and Asia. Trump climbed the GOP nomination ladder promising to put “America First,” resurrecting the isolationist mantra of the 1940s. The white supremacist, pro-apartheid killer of UK Labour MP Jo Cox was heard shouting “Put Britain First” as he stabbed and shot the 41-year-old anti-Brexit MP to death. Across the globe, foreigners have become the common target of racist hate crimes and extremist violence. Anti-Semitism is on the rise, as are Islamophobic attacks. Nowadays the cosmopolitan ideal – a global citizenry – appears to be more myth than reality.

It’s a difficult time to be an optimist. It doesn’t help that history is very nearly repeating itself. The Brexit referendum has hammered home how historical memory is far shorter and inaccurate than we might have feared. For example, nationalistic pro-Brexit Britons marked the centenary of the bloody Battle of the Somme this past weekend, either unaware or uncaring of the irony that the world war that wrought the same bloody battle arose largely because of extreme European nationalism, economic autarky, and disunity.

Granted, the current global crisis has many aspects that are unique to the 21st century. But there also many striking parallels between the situation today and the struggles that occurred during the global economic depressions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (These periods even had their fair share of international terrorism.) Now more than ever we need to be revisiting these earlier controversies over globalization and international conflict in order to find historical precedents, parallels, and lessons – so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes.

It would seem that the editors of the Financial Times agree. Continue reading “New @ExeterCIGH Book Featured in Financial Times”

Donald Trump and the History of American Protectionism: A New Documentary


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Featuring Marc-William Palen (Exeter), Helen Milner (Princeton), Bill Galston (Brookings Institution), Carla Hills (former US trade representative), David Auter (MIT), David Taylor (Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association), Bruce Springsteen, and Ferris Bueller, Edward Stourton examines America’s long history of resistance to free trade, and asks why it has again become such a potent political force in a new documentary for BBC Radio 4. Continue reading “Donald Trump and the History of American Protectionism: A New Documentary”

Daily History Q&A: The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade

Clinton Sandvick
Daily History

Cross-posted from Daily History

Marc-William Palen’s new book
The ‘Conspiracy’ of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle over Empire and Economic Globalisation, 1846-1896 is relevant not only to historians of imperialism, capitalism, and economics, but to the 2016 American presidential primary election. Once again, free trade has become a central campaign issue during a presidential election. While Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have discussed the consequences of free trade, they have provided very little historical context to help voters understand the rationale behind free trade. Palen’s book explores a world when extreme American economic nationalism came into conflict with Britain’s advocacy of global free trade. Palen’s book focuses “upon the ideological debates surrounding free trade and protectionism” within the United States and Great Britain.[1]

Palen is a historian at the University of Exeter. He has written extensively on globalization and free trade for the New York Times, the Australian, The Conversation, Globalist Magazine, History News Network and many others. Palen has recently published two outstanding articles (‘Free trade is once again tearing apart the Republican Party‘ and ‘Trump’s anti-trade tirades recall GOP’s protectionist past‘) explaining how Donald Trump’s economic policies echo previous GOP stances on free trade. He is also the current editor for Imperial & Global Forum. You can follow Palen on Twitter at @MWPalen.

Here is the interview with Marc-William Palen.

If someone asked you to quickly summarize your book, what would be your 2-minute elevator version?

Briefly, The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade provides a new interpretation of Anglo-American imperialism and economic integration from the mid to late 19th century. The issue of free trade dominated the era’s political scene like no other. But whereas Britain turned to free trade as a national policy and ideology by mid-century, the United States turned to economic nationalism. The book thus argues that Anglo-American economic globalization was driven by this political and ideological conflict between free trade and economic nationalism from the 1840s onward.

Continue reading “Daily History Q&A: The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade”

The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade

Book cover

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

Living as we do in an era where many of the world’s political elites commonly support free trade initiatives, it is perhaps difficult to imagine that the global economy looked very different in the late 19th century. Aside from the notable case of Free Trade England, most nations in the latter half of the 19th century sought safety from the gales of modern global market competition behind ever higher tariff walls, buttressed with government subsidies to domestic industries and imperial expansion. The United States was the exemplar of this global turn to economic nationalism and empire.

In the wake of the Second World War, the United States would become the leading proponent of free trade. But for nearly a century before, American foreign trade policy was dominated by extreme economic nationalism. What brought about this pronounced ideological, political, and economic about face? How did it affect Anglo-American imperialism? What were the repercussions for the global capitalist order? In answering these questions, my new book, The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade (Cambridge University Press, 2016), offers the first detailed account of the controversial Anglo-American struggle over empire and economic globalization in the mid to late 19th century. Continue reading “The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade”