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The Rise of Free Trade Imperialism: Classical Political Economy the Empire of Free Trade and Imperialism 1750 1850

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This book seeks to uncover some of the intellectual origins of the imperialism of the classic period.

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Reviews of The Rise of Free Trade Imperialism: Classical Political Economy the Empire of Free Trade and Imperialism 1750 1850

Overall customer rating: 5.000
JamesRMacLean

Everything a book on this subject ought to be

by JamesRMacLean on Apr 9, 2007

It's difficult for me to contain my enthusiasm for this book. On the one hand, I had imagined myself fairly well-informed about the evolution of economic thought and its application to British policy in the crucial period 1815-1899; yet this book was profoundly informative and satisfying. On the other hand, I doubt a non-student of economics would find this book excessively difficult to understand. Semmel is very good at capturing and illustrating the essence of ideas, and setting them out in the best order for the student. The essence of the story is that, prior to 1750, imperialism was founded on the principal of crown monopoly. Organizations like the several East India Companies were awarded sovereignty over territories they conquered in the name of the crown, in return for a stream of revenues. The object was to ensure a stream of gold to the country doing the colonizing, by extracting tribute from the inhabitants. This was a major feature of 18th century mercantilism. In contrast, the free trade imperialists began as liberal critics of mercantilism; they called for an abolition of tariffs on farm commodities and an end to the company privileges. While still claiming to be liberal critics of mercantile imperialism, they insisted on sweeping imposition of market reforms on all aspects of British life. This was then directed against undeveloped nations not yet under European control, such as Turkey, Iran, and China. Hereafter, the object of British imperialism would be regime change in the name of free trade. The centerpiece of this was European imperialism in China, particularly the Opium War. The correlation between the doctrine of free trade reform as an evangelical cause and imperialism is a surprising one, and Semmel does an outstanding job explaining it rigorously.

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