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A Brief History of International Trade Policy

By Douglas A. Irwin

"Economists have likened free trade to technological progress: although some narrow interests may be harmed, the overall benefits to society are substantial." The theory of international trade and commercial policy is one of the oldest branches of economic thought. From the ancient Greeks to the present, government officials, intellectuals, and economists have pondered the determinants of trade between countries, have asked whether trade bring benefits or harms the nation, and, more importantly, have tried to determine what trade policy is best for any particular country. Since the time of the ancient Greek philosophers, there has been a dual view of trade: a recognition of the benefits of international exchange combined with a concern that certain domestic industries (or laborers, or culture) would be harmed by foreign competition. Depending upon the weights put on the overall gains from trade or on the losses of those harmed by imports, different analysts have arrived at diff...

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