Protecting the Infant Industry

Nationalist versus Cosmopolitan Economists


The essay centers on the classic debate between the arguments pro and versus protectionism. This debate opposed the British classical school to the now forgotten, but very important, school of Nationalist Economics. In brief, the ones clearly supported a regime of colonial control over the colonies. Therefore, Adam Smith and his successors pressed for “free,” unhampered, worldwide trade. Their “theories” were but veiled arguments  to rationalize Britain’s supremacy. Her supremacy  as “workshop of the world,” buttress by technological master and naval power. Whereas the others, being colonial citizens themselves, or citizens of colonized countries, advocated economic independence. Such independence, in their view was to achieved by the development of a National, autonomous manufacturing system. 

The cosmopolitan program of Smith and his successors was challenged vigorously by nationalist writers, notably in Germany and the USA. Against Britain’s imperial discourse, Friedrich List, US Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, and others posited the question, not in “theoretical” terms, but in its historical context. For the nationalists, it seemed plausible to suppose that, in an era of rapid technological progress and potential industrial development, countries, which for the moment were at a lower stage, could, with temporary assistance and guidance, catapult to a position of equality or even superiority to that country with the special advantage of a head start.

In International Journal of Social Economics, Vol. 23 n.2 (1996): 4-34 (with J.E. Elliott)

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