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The hegemon's dilemma: Great Britain, the United States, and the international economic order


  • Stein, Arthur A.


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Stein, Arthur A., 1984. "The hegemon's dilemma: Great Britain, the United States, and the international economic order," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 38(02), pages 355-386, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:intorg:v:38:y:1984:i:02:p:355-386_02

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    Cited by:

    1. Bruno S. Frey & Paolo Pamini, 2009. "World Heritage: Where Are We? An Empirical Analysis," CREMA Working Paper Series 2009-31, Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts (CREMA).
    2. Eichengreen, Barry, 1987. "Hegemonic Stability Theories of the International Monetary System," CEPR Discussion Papers 193, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    3. William Phelan, 2008. "Open International Markets without Exclusion: Encompassing Domestic Institutions, Excludable Goods, and International Public Goods," The Institute for International Integration Studies Discussion Paper Series iiisdp245, IIIS.
    4. repec:spr:ieaple:v:18:y:2018:i:2:d:10.1007_s10784-018-9387-z is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Lampe, Markus, 2009. "Effects of Bilateralism and the MFN Clause on International Trade: Evidence for the Cobden-Chevalier Network, 1860-1875," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 69(04), pages 1012-1040, December.
    6. James N. Miller, 2001. "Origins of the GATT: British Resistance to American Multilateralism," Macroeconomics 0012005, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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