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The Hegemon's Dilemma: Great Britain, the United States, and the International Economic Order

Arthur A. Stein
International Organization
Vol. 38, No. 2 (Spring, 1984), pp. 355-386
Published by: The MIT Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2706445
Page Count: 32
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The Hegemon's Dilemma: Great Britain, the United States, and the International Economic Order
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Abstract

Liberal international trade regimes do not emerge from the policies of one state, even a hegemonic one. Trade liberalization among major trading states is, rather, the product of tariff bargains. Thus, hegemons need followers and must make concessions to obtain agreements. The liberal trade regimes that emerged in both the 19th and the 20th centuries were founded on asymmetric bargains that permitted discrimination, especially against the hegemon. The agreements that lowered tariff barriers led to freer trade not free trade; resulted in subsystemic rather than global orders; and legitimated mercantilistic and protectionist practices of exclusion and discrimination, and thus did not provide a collective good. Moreover, these trade agreements (and trade disputes as well) had inherently international political underpinnings and did not reflect economic interests alone. Trade liberalization also required a certain internal strength on the part of the government. Furthermore, only a complete political rupturing of relations, such as occurs in wartime, can destroy such a regime. A hegemon's decline cannot do so alone. These arguments are developed in a historical reassessment of the evolution of the international trading order since 1820. Eras commonly seen as liberal, such as the 1860s, are shown to have included a good deal of protection, and eras seen as protectionist, such as the 1880s, are shown to have been much more liberal than is usually believed.

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