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Distinguished Lecture 2013

Political science professor delivers Dean’s
   Distinguished Lecture

by Kelly Caputo and Eseosa Olumhense

Described by Harpur College Dean Anne McCall as a "consummate teacher" and a "man of great service," accomplished professor Benjamin Fordham shared the findings of his recent research at this year's Dean's Distinguished Lecture.

"The depth, breadth and timeliness of the subjects that he teaches make him yet again one of our highly valued faculty members in Harpur College," McCall said.

Fordham, who is chair of the Department of Political Science, addressed an audience of faculty, staff and students on "Protectionist Empire: Trade, Tariffs, and United States Foreign Policy, 1890–1914" on Nov. 15.

Previously serving as the Kissinger Scholar in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress, Fordham's current research focuses on how political and economic factors influence policies regarding force, military spending, alliances and international trade.

Fordham's presentation covered the influence of trade and trade policy on broader protectionist foreign policy made by the United States between 1890 and 1914, or rather, trade restrictions placed on foreign competitors.

"I'm talking about decisions on intervention and military preparation, relations with other states, and the role of the U.S. and international systems in general," Fordham said. "The role of the search for overseas markets in this process has been really well documented and discussed for a long time. What I want to emphasize today is the fact that the dominant party favored a highly protectionist trade policy."

Fordham's lecture also illustrated the differences between Republican and Democratic views on tariffs, which are taxes on internationally imported and exported goods during the period.

"The debate over how high the tariffs should be became increasingly nasty and partisan after 1887," Fordham said. "If you look at congressional voting on this issue, there's almost perfect correspondence between being a Democrat and voting against the tariff and being a Republican and voting for it. It's a highly partisan issue."

Additionally, Fordham spoke about three implications of having a party in power that wanted to build a strong presence in overseas markets and yet also wanted high levels of protection.

"First, there was a focus on less developed markets during this period," Fordham said. "Policymakers talked about overseas markets, they talked about Latin America and they talked about China."

Fordham noted that this focus should seem strange to us.

"The reason it should seem odd is that the best markets for U.S. exports were most definitely in Europe and in developed countries," Fordham said. "The reasons for this are not hard to figure out, these were far wealthier areas than the other areas of the time, like China or Latin America."

The second implication Fordham discussed was "the search for exclusive bilateral agreements or unilateral privileges when it came to setting up the trading system that the U.S. wanted." While focusing on the arrangement during the 1890s, Fordham also made a connection to the tariff system today.

"The ideal agreement was one in which the U.S. would give a tariff concession on something that wasn't produced in the United States and in exchange for that, privileged access would be granted for American manufacturers," Fordham said. "Today, tariff reductions are also made in much the same way, through bilateral agreements, but they get extended to everyone else through most favored nation status."

Fordham noted that this process was vital to the multilateral free trade order that was built by the United States after World War II.

The final implication Fordham addressed was that of unilateralism and increased perception of international threat, focusing on the lack of cooperation in this foreign policy.

"It is, in fact, a policy that is directed at excluding other states by political means from markets they might otherwise have and also persuading less developed states to accept tariff rights that they might not necessarily want to give," Fordham said.

Fordham ended his lecture by stressing the benefits of unilateralism.

"Unilateralism continues to make sense at each point," Fordham said. "So it makes sense in the 1890s and 1914 period because you're pursuing a really uncooperative foreign policy. It makes sense in the 1930s because you don't want to see the U.S. intervene in Europe. It makes sense in the 1940s and 1950s because you're skeptical of all of these multilateral agreements and especially multilateral trade agreements that these democratic policy makers are proposing."

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Last Updated: 3/1/17