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European Trade Policy in the 19th Century  

Markus Lampe

Trade policy is one determining factor of 19th-century globalization, alongside transport and communication innovations and broader institutional changes that made worldwide commodity and factor flows possible. Four broad periods, or trade policy regimes, can be discerned at the European level. The first starts at the end of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars that had led to many disruptions in trade relations. Governments tried to recover from the financial impact of the wars and to mitigate the adjustment shocks to domestic producers that came with the end of the wars. Very restrictive trade policies were thus adopted in most places and only slowly dismantled over the following decades as some of the welfare costs of, for example, agricultural protection became evident. The second period dated from the mid-1840s, which saw the liberalization of protective grain tariffs in many European countries, to the mid-1870s, when trade liberalization reached its maximum. This period witnessed unilateral trade liberalizations, but is most famous for the spread of a network of bilateral trade agreements across Europe in the wake of the Cobden–Chevalier treaty between France and the United Kingdom in 1860. From the 1870s, industrial and commercial crises and falling prices in agriculture due to global market integration led governments to search for solutions to these policy challenges. Many European countries thus increased protection for agriculture and manufactured goods in which domestic import-competing producers struggled. At the same time, demands for renegotiations threatened the treaty network, and lapsing agreements were only provisionally prolonged. From the late 1880s, the struggle between protection for import-competing producers and market access abroad for export-oriented producers led to internal and external conflicts over trade policy in many countries, including trade (or tariff) “wars.” A renewed network of less ambitious trade treaties than those of the 1860s restored a fragile equilibrium from the early 1890s, to be renewed and renegotiated roughly every 12 years as treaties approached their expiration date. When looking at the country and commodity level it can easily be appreciated that the more or less common shifts during these periods at the European level were more pronounced in some countries than in others. For example, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Belgium shifted more decisively to free trade and remained there, while liberalization was much less pronounced and more decisively undone in Portugal, Spain, Russia, and the Habsburg monarchy. The experiences of the Scandinavian countries, Germany, and France lie somewhere in between. Turkey and the countries that gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century started as (forced) free traders and from the 1880s increased their duties, in part to meet growing fiscal demands. At the commodity level, tariffs on raw materials remained generally low and did not follow the protectionist backlash that affected foodstuffs. One exception was (initially) “tropical” goods such as sugar, coffee, tea, and tobacco, where many countries levied high tariffs to extract fiscal revenue. For manufactured goods, liberalization and protectionist backlash were milder than in agriculture, although there are many exceptions to this rule.


Agriculture and the Environment  

Steven Stoll

During the Holocene, the present geological epoch, an increasing portion of humans began to manipulate the reproduction of plants and animals in a series of environmental practices known as agriculture. No other ecological relationship sustains as many humans as farming; no other has transformed the landscape to the same extent. The domestication of plants by American Indians followed the end of the last glacial maximum (the Ice Age). About eight thousand years ago, the first domesticated maize and squash arrived from central Mexico, spreading to every region and as far north as the subarctic boreal forest. The incursion of Europeans into North America set off widespread deforestation, soil depletion, and the spread of settlement, followed by the introduction of industrial machines and chemicals. A series of institutions sponsored publically funded research into fertilizers and insecticides. By the late 19th century, writers and activists criticized the technological transformation of farming as destructive to the environment and rural society. During the 20th century, wind erosion contributed to the depopulation of much of the Great Plains. Vast projects in environmental engineering transformed deserts into highly productive regions of intensive fruit and vegetable production. Throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries, access to land remained limited to whites, with American Indians, African Americans, Latinas/os, Chinese, and peoples of other ethnicities attempting to gain farms or hold on to the land they owned. Two broad periods describe the history of agriculture and the environment in that portion of North America that became the United States. In the first, the environment dominated, forcing humans to adapt during the end of thousands of years of extreme climate variability. In the second, institutional and technological change became more significant, though the environment remained a constant factor against which American agriculture took shape. A related historical pattern within this shift was the capitalist transformation of the United States. For thousands of years, households sustained themselves and exchanged some of what they produced for money. But during the 19th century among a majority of American farmers, commodities took over the entire purpose of agriculture, transforming environments to reflect commercial opportunity.


Cultivation and Environmental Impact of Corn  

Emerson Nafziger

Corn ranks first among crops in quantity produced globally, owing to its high yield and to its value as a food for humans and domestic animals. While its water-use efficiency is high compared to that of other crops, the production of high corn yields requires a great deal of water; the availability of water largely determines where the crop is grown. As a high-yielding grass species, corn also requires a substantial supply of nutrients (especially nitrogen) from external sources, including manufactured fertilizers and organic materials such as animal or green manures. This, along with the need to manage soils, weeds, insects, and diseases, makes corn production environmentally consequential. Corn captures large quantities of sunlight energy through photosynthesis, but its production requires large external inputs of energy, coming mostly (in mechanized production) from fossil fuels. So even though the crop’s high yields moderates the environmental cost per unit of grain produced, minimizing the external environmental consequences of large-scale corn production is an important goal in the quest for greater sustainability of production of this important crop.