'Free Trade' and the Varieties of Eighteenth-Century State Competition
This chapter offers a fresh examination of the transformation of British trade policy in the later 18th and early 19th centuries. It reconsiders the 'rise of free trade' as a mutation, rather than a rejection, of an earlier 'mercantilist' logic of national power competition. Examining the writings of the Anglo-Dutch merchant Matthew Decker alongside those of the better-known Scottish philosopher Adam Smith, this chapter identifies a switch from a competition over trade balances in precious metals, to an all-pervasive struggle for labor discipline and productivity, applying not just to princes and rulers but entire 'nations'. The reduction of tariffs and the abolition of monopolies emerges as a means of enhancing the productive power of the nation, and its related capacity for funding military conflict.