Dossier Economy


Is Protectionism the Solution?

by Florian Mayneris , 17 January 2012

Protectionism, a solution? Really? The economic crisis may not have turned the tide against liberalization, but we certainly cannot look at protectionism the same as we used to.

Ideology is never far when discussing the vices and virtues of free trade. As the economic crisis has brought such discussions back to the fore of public debate, Books and Ideas contributes a series of articles on the new forms protectionism has taken since 2007, to complex effect.

Political leaders have found it hard to resist the temptation of shutting off their countries to alleviate the burden of the recession. Closing their borders to foreign products has seemed a valid way to protect domestic industries—and jobs—from international competition, and an appropriate response to calls for help coming from the hardest-hit sectors of their constituencies.

No consensus has emerged, however, on those policies. For some, protectionism could be an adequate tool for counter-cyclical action, if properly circumscribed in terms of scale and sector. Protectionism would also put an end to competition coming from countries with lower environmental and social standards, which many find unfair. For others, protectionism can only breed more protectionism, and the benefit of protectionist measures in one country will soon be cancelled by similar policies in the other. Protectionism would even compromise growth in the long term and heighten international tensions, just like it did in the 1930s. Books and Ideas’s authors participate in the debate:

Advocating against more protectionism, Nina Pavcnik nevertheless reminds us of the hidden costs of trade liberalization, whose benefits are often unequally distributed among the world’s citizens.

Hylke Vandenbussche looks at antidumping measures, this new incarnation of protectionism. Her nuanced analysis calls attention to the contrasted effects of antidumping on various sectors and emphasizes their negative role on the most productive sectors of a country’s economy.

Jeanne Moisand brings history to bear on the question and shows in her investigation of Catalan nationalism that protectionism need not exacerbate tensions or even foster separatism.

By examining the birth of protectionist theories in the nineteenth century, David Todd shows its origins as a “weapon of the weaker” developed by France, Germany, and the U.S. in a Western world dominated by Great Britain. He identifies a brand of protectionism that while nationalistic was also egalitarian, and rooted in the liberalism of the Enlightenment and the Revolution.

Dossier's Articles

by Florian Mayneris, 17 January 2012

To quote this article :

Florian Mayneris, « Is Protectionism the Solution? », Books and Ideas , 17 January 2012. ISSN : 2105-3030. URL :

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