Thursday, November 25, 2021

Eric Helleiner's "The Neomercantilists"

Eric Helleiner is Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Balsillie School of International Affairs at the University of Waterloo. His books include The Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods and The Status Quo Crisis.

Helleiner applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Neomercantilists: A Global Intellectual History, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book comes in the middle of a chapter describing how the neomercantilist ideas of the famous nineteenth century German thinker Friedrich List were embraced around the world and modified in interesting ways in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. That specific page details how some Argentine thinkers supported List’s general protectionist advice while ignoring his more specific idea that Latin American countries should not implement these kinds of policies.

The page 99 test works partially to convey the central idea of my work. The goal of The Neomercantilists is to provide the first detailed global intellectual history of neomercantlist ideology in the pre-1945 years. Neomercantilists are supporters of strategic trade protectionism and other forms of government economic activism to promote state wealth and power. Their ideology is similar to the mercantilist thinkers that Adam Smith famously criticized in his 1776 book The Wealth of Nations. But they formulated new defenses of these policies and goals in the wake of Smith’s critique. The most famous of these thinkers is List whose 1841 book The National System of Political Economy was a strong attack on the Smithian school of free traders during his era. Although List’s work is well known, the key goal of my book is to also feature many other neomercantilist thinkers in the pre-1945 era who have received much less attention than List. Some of these other neomercantilists were people who found List’s work inspiring but modified his ideas in innovative ways. The Argentine thinkers are in that category.

The page 99 test only works partially because many of the thinkers I feature in the book were figures with little interest or even knowledge of List’s ideas. The majority of the book (which comes after page 99) examines these kinds of people, highlighting how neomercantilist thought emerged in a much more decentralized fashion in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries than List-centric accounts suggest. Particularly interesting were many East Asian thinkers who pioneered neomercantilist ideas by drawing on local intellectual traditions. Their ideas receive little attention in histories of economic thought, despite their historical significance and the important legacies of some of their ideas. I argue that the intellectual histories of political economy need to devote more space to these (and other) non-Western thinkers, particularly in the contemporary age when Western dominance of the world economy is waning. And more generally, I argue that it is important to understand much better the roots and content of neomercantilist thought in an era when this ideology’s popularity is growing in popularity. My book is designed to provide the first history of this kind.
Learn more about The Neomercantilists at the Cornell University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods.

--Marshal Zeringue