Saturday, February 24, 2007

My Skarbek-esque post: Federalist 11

So I did last night what so many other Americans do every Friday night-- read the Federalist Papers. #11 caught my eye-- as did Hamilton's description of tariffs, trade and politics. He starts with the following hypothetical: "Suppose...we had a government in America capable of excluding Great Britain...from all of our ports; what would be the probable operation of this step upon her politics?" After stating that the arguments of the day posited little to no effect on Britain's policies, Hamilton lets fly this nugget:

"A mature consideration of the objects suggested by these questions will justify a belief that the real disadvantages to Great Britain from such a state of things, conspiring with the prepossessions of a great part of the nation in favor of the American trade and with the importunities of the West India islands, would produce a relaxation in her present system and would let us into the enjoyment of privileges in the markets of those islands and elsewhere, from which our trade would derive the most substantial benefits. Such a point gained from the British government, and which could not be expected without an equivalent in exemptions and immunities in our markets, would be likely to have a correspondent effect on the conduct of other nations, who would not be inclined to see themselves altogether supplanted in our trade."
Now, I'm not an expert on this period of history, but after reading over this I would presume that Britain had some sort of existing trade policy against the United States at the time; nonetheless, it's intriguing that the path to remedying the situation (in Hamilton's eyes) is to hammer Britain with our own trade-impeding policies. I'm reading this as saying that if we can hurt Britain bad enough, then we can convince them to reduce their trade policies and everything will end up peachy in the end.

It begs the question: Is Hamilton the first hippy? Is there any reason to believe, especially given the recent history at the time between Britain and the U.S., that an aggressive trade policy is going to lead to a greater degree of openness in the long run between the two nations? It's not to say that this situation couldn't happen-- but how could this be put forth as the deductive outcome?

Some other choice lines from Federalist 11...

Hamilton on his hopes for America in the world's economy:

"By a steady adherence to the Union, we may hope, erelong, to become the arbiter of Europe in America, and to be able to incline the balance of European competitions in this part of the world as our interest may dictate."

Hamilton on neutrality:

"The rights of neutrality will only be respected when they are defended by an adequate power. A nation, despicable by its weakness, forfeits even the privilege of being neutral."

(Wasn't Switzerland respected as neutral in World War II?)

Hamilton on the importance of military security:

"It would be in the power of the maritime nations, availing themselves of our universal impotence, to prescribe the conditions of our political existence; and as they have a common interest in being our carriers, and still more in preventing our being theirs, they would in all probability combine to embarrass our navigation in such a manner as would in effect destroy it and confine us to passive commerce."

Hamilton on the composition of foreign trade:

"The variety, not less than the value, of products for exportation contributes to the activity of foreign commerce. It can be conducted upon much better terms with a large number of materials of a given value than with a small number of materials of the same value, arising from the competitions of trade and from the fluctuations of markets."

An intriguing read.

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