Neither Free Trade Nor Protection
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Neither Free Trade Nor Protection

A Critical Political Economy of Trade Theory and Practice

Bill Dunn

This book challenges both sides of the debate around international trade. Most mainstream economists advocate free trade as a mainstay of national and global prosperity. Meanwhile, many critics see trade causing inequality and poverty. Unfortunately, supporters and opponents share many assumptions about trade and the character of the international economy and produce similarly abstract and asocialized theories. Their propositions need to be investigated critically, and in doing so, this book begins the task of assessing when and how trade matters.
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Chapter 5: Marxism, trade and the limits of radical nationalism

Bill Dunn


This chapter considers a range of broadly Marxist perspectives on trade. This book is informed by Marxism and sympathetic to an understanding of trade as inextricably linked to questions of power and exploitation. However, there are significant problems with some of the most influential accounts, beyond which a properly critical political economy therefore needs to go. The next section briefly discusses Marx. Trade relations could be important for Marx but, at least methodologically, they played a subordinate part in his analysis of capitalism. The following section discusses Marxist theories of imperialism as they were developed in the early years of the twentieth century. These early theories had the great merit of applying Marxist ideas to the concrete questions of their day but leave unresolved problems and followers have subsequently seized on some of their weaker points. The chapter then discusses the theory of unequal exchange (UE), particularly as it was articulated by Emmanuel (1972). This postulates a systematic transfer of value, impoverishing the periphery and enriching the core. Emmanuel sees the process driven primarily by higher wages in the core and higher exploitation in the periphery. The penultimate section considers broader ideas of dependency and world-systems theory (WST), which incorporate UE into a bolder and historically richer understanding of global capitalist development in which the power of core states play a vital causal role. The final section develops some criticisms, mainly ‘internal’ Marxist criticisms.

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