EH.net is owned and operated by the Economic History Association
with the support of other sponsoring organizations.

American Trade Policy, 1923-1995

Author(s):Kaplan, Edward S.
Ryley, Thomas W.
Reviewer(s):Aaronson, Susan Ariel

Edward S. Kaplan, American Trade Policy, 1923-1995. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996. x + 176 pp. Bibliography and index. $55.00 (cloth), ISBN: 0-313-29480-1

and

Edward S. Kaplan and Thomas W. Ryley, Prelude to Trade Wars: American Tariff Policy, 1890-1922. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994. 160 pp. Bibliography and index. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-313-29061-x.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Susan Aaronson, Department of History, University of North Texas and The Brookings Institution

Trade is where foreign and domestic policies meet. Consequently, the development of trade policy is fraught with controversy–between nations; between the affected interests and policymakers; between Congress and the Executive Branch; and between government agencies that negotiate and administer trade protection and agreements. Edward S. Kaplan’s new book, American Trade Policy, 1923-1995 promises to address some of that complexity. Kaplan is to be commended for attempting to tackle the morass of U.S. trade policy. Regrettably, his book falls short.

Kaplan relies on a few secondary sources, not primary sources, and thus, he provides an incomplete understanding of the politics and economics of trade policymaking. For example, rather than examine the Congressional Record or Congressional hearings, he relies on The New York Times (and no other papers) to describe the development of trade policy legislation. He consistently cites the same four secondary sources for his analysis of trade policy and ignores prominent analysts of trade such as E. E. Schattsneider (Politics, Pressures and the Tariff,New York, 1935) and John Jackson (The World Trading System: Law and Policy of International Economic Relations, Cambridge, MA, 1989). He does not review government reports for statistics or history (such as the Annual Report of the U.S. Tariff Commission on the Trade Agreements Program), speeches of the Presidents, or speeches or reports from the U.S. Trade Representative.

U.S. trade policy has always reflected freer trade and protectionist sentiment. Even during the supposed “glory days” of U.S. leadership of free trade, the U.S. protected some sectors. Kaplan seems to miss this crucial point because he oversimplifies the process by which trade policy is made. The nature of such protection as well as its endurance depends on the state of the economy, politics, and culture.

In contrast with many other nations, authority for U.S. trade policy is divided. The President has power to control foreign policy, but under the constitution, Congress has the power to regulate international commerce and to tax. Some special interests benefit from open markets and others benefit from protection. As a result, America has always had a bifurcated trade policy, with efforts to liberalize trade coexisting with protection. Finally, given the many interests concerned about trade, some protection is necessary to “buy” political support for freer trade measures. This has been true since 1789. Why is such protection necessary? Because trade can create both winners and losers. Those who are hurt may deserve temporary protection, despite the costs to consumers and taxpayers. Such protection is accepted by GATT law and considered appropriate.

Kaplan believes that the Clinton Administration is protectionist and negating U.S. leadership of global efforts to free trade. In his view, “U.S. trade policy in 1995 has come full circle since the protectionist 1920s.” This thesis is flawed because Kaplan does not understand modern modes of protection. Is the Clinton Administration really more protectionist or is it harder to reduce the types of protection nations rely on today?

In the first five decades of the twentieth century, nations relied on border measures (tariffs, exchange controls, quotas etc..) to protect. These border measures are overt and were easily reduced in the first eight GATT rounds. As a result, today tariffs in most GATT members are relatively low. Ironically, GATT’s very success may have encouraged nations to rely on “covert” trade barriers (domestic measures) such as subsidies, government procurement policies or regulation in recent years. Because these administrative measures are domestic policies, it is hard to determine whether nations use such regulations with the intent to discriminate against foreign producers. Under 301 trade legislation, when the President confronts such trade barriers, he is required to investigate and sometimes to punish protectionist nations with retaliatory protection in the United States. Kaplan fears that America (because of Super 301) appears less disposed towards multilateralism and is “moving from a multilateral trade approach within the WTO to a unilateral one under which it threatens countries like Japan with tariff increases for failing to open their markets” (p. x). Had Kaplan read primary sources or Susan Schwab’s Trade-offs (Cambridge, MA, 1994) he would understand that the Clinton Administration is reluctant to use these powers, nor did it call for them.

A more careful review of the history of Uruguay Round negotiations and enabling legislation shows that both the Bush and Clinton Administrations have tried hard to broaden the rules that govern trade to include corruption and labor standards, and to complete negotiations to bring new sectors into the GATT/WTO system such as services and agriculture. This is not a protectionist record. Ironically, Jesse Helms, Pat Buchanan, and other noted protectionists frequently complain that the United States under Clinton is too supportive of multilateralism. The author ignores the Clinton Administration’s push to expand the North American free trade agreement (NAFTA); its continued leadership of global efforts to free trade; its unwillingness to cite many nations (from Argentina to India) under super 301; and its attempts to bring non-WTO members into membership (such as Saudi Arabia, China, Ukraine, and Russia). Finally, instead of relying on domestic tools to protect, the Clinton Administration seems to be relying on international tools. The U.S. is using the dispute settlement mechanism of the WTO. From January, 1995 to July, 1996, the U.S. has invoked dispute settlement in 16 cases, more than any other country in the world.

Writing a history of tariffs is a daunting task. It is hard to make it interesting. Dr. Kaplan has also teamed up with Thomas W. Ryley in an earlier book on the history of tariff policy, Prelude to Trade Wars, which does a good job at describing the politics of trade policy without being dry. The book is especially good at explaining the background of the participants and how they came to their positions. Unfortunately, the authors rely principally on secondary sources to make their case. Consequently, they are making their arguments based on the strong (or weak shoulders) of others rather than their own extensive research.

For example, describing the Emergency Tariff Act of 1921, the authors write “to all appearances in 1914, the country desired a moderate tariff bill.” To prove their point they cite one article in the American Economic Review, written in 1923. That would not convince most historians that is what the country desired.

The analysis is hampered by sloppy writing and inadequate argumentation. For example, “The McKinley Tariff … was the first of a number of tariff bills that raised duties to their highest levels in U.S. history.” Which one was the highest? All of them? Moreover, the title is a shocker. Which trade wars are the authors talking about? In the 20th century, when did the U.S. go to war over trade? The very term “trade wars” gives one the sense that trade is a zero sum game, a competition. A more plausible assumption is that entities trade because they think they can both gain.

The authors’ contribution is strongest in political history. (Ironically, the authors write for a series called Contributions in Economics and Economic History.) For those interested in the politics of American tariff making in this period, they provide a decent read. But to understand U.S. trade policy, one must understand the social, technological and economic environment, as well as the political environment..

Those readers who want to gain a better understanding of the complexities of the history of U.S. trade policy should look beyond these two books. Good books with very different perspectives include Thomas Zeiler’s American Trade and Power in the 1960s (New York, 1992); Alfred Eckes’s Opening America’s Market: U.S. Foreign Trade Policy since 1776 (Chapel Hill, NC, 1995); I.M. Destler’s American Trade Policies: System Under Stress (Washington, DC, 1995); G. John Ikenberry et al, The State and American Foreign Economic Policy (Ithaca, NY, 1984); William Becker and Samuel F. Wells, eds., Economics and World Power: An Assessment of American Diplomacy since 1789 (New York, 1984); Susan Aaronson, Trade and the American Dream (Lexington, KY, 1996); and John Dobson, Two Centuries of Tariffs (Washington, 1976).

Susan Ariel Aaronson Department of History University of North Texas and Guest Scholar in Economics The Brookings Institution

Susan Aaronson is also a regular commentator on Public Radio International’s Marketplace.

?

Subject(s):International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

Prelude to Trade Wars: American Tariff Policy, 1890-1922

Author(s):Kaplan, Edward S.
Ryley, Thomas W.
Reviewer(s):Aaronson, Susan Ariel

Edward S. Kaplan, American Trade Policy, 1923-1995. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996. x + 176 pp. Bibliography and index. $55.00 (cloth), ISBN: 0-313-29480-1

and

Edward S. Kaplan and Thomas W. Ryley, Prelude to Trade Wars: American Tariff Policy, 1890-1922. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994. 160 pp. Bibliography and index. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-313-29061-x.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Susan Aaronson, Department of History, University of North Texas and The Brookings Institution

Trade is where foreign and domestic policies meet. Consequently, the development of trade policy is fraught with controversy–between nations; between the affected interests and policymakers; between Congress and the Executive Branch; and between government agencies that negotiate and administer trade protection and agreements. Edward S. Kaplan’s new book, American Trade Policy, 1923-1995 promises to address some of that complexity. Kaplan is to be commended for attempting to tackle the morass of U.S. trade policy. Regrettably, his book falls short.

Kaplan relies on a few secondary sources, not primary sources, and thus, he provides an incomplete understanding of the politics and economics of trade policymaking. For example, rather than examine the Congressional Record or Congressional hearings, he relies on The New York Times (and no other papers) to describe the development of trade policy legislation. He consistently cites the same four secondary sources for his analysis of trade policy and ignores prominent analysts of trade such as E. E. Schattsneider (Politics, Pressures and the Tariff,New York, 1935) and John Jackson (The World Trading System: Law and Policy of International Economic Relations, Cambridge, MA, 1989). He does not review government reports for statistics or history (such as the Annual Report of the U.S. Tariff Commission on the Trade Agreements Program), speeches of the Presidents, or speeches or reports from the U.S. Trade Representative.

U.S. trade policy has always reflected freer trade and protectionist sentiment. Even during the supposed “glory days” of U.S. leadership of free trade, the U.S. protected some sectors. Kaplan seems to miss this crucial point because he oversimplifies the process by which trade policy is made. The nature of such protection as well as its endurance depends on the state of the economy, politics, and culture.

In contrast with many other nations, authority for U.S. trade policy is divided. The President has power to control foreign policy, but under the constitution, Congress has the power to regulate international commerce and to tax. Some special interests benefit from open markets and others benefit from protection. As a result, America has always had a bifurcated trade policy, with efforts to liberalize trade coexisting with protection. Finally, given the many interests concerned about trade, some protection is necessary to “buy” political support for freer trade measures. This has been true since 1789. Why is such protection necessary? Because trade can create both winners and losers. Those who are hurt may deserve temporary protection, despite the costs to consumers and taxpayers. Such protection is accepted by GATT law and considered appropriate.

Kaplan believes that the Clinton Administration is protectionist and negating U.S. leadership of global efforts to free trade. In his view, “U.S. trade policy in 1995 has come full circle since the protectionist 1920s.” This thesis is flawed because Kaplan does not understand modern modes of protection. Is the Clinton Administration really more protectionist or is it harder to reduce the types of protection nations rely on today?

In the first five decades of the twentieth century, nations relied on border measures (tariffs, exchange controls, quotas etc..) to protect. These border measures are overt and were easily reduced in the first eight GATT rounds. As a result, today tariffs in most GATT members are relatively low. Ironically, GATT’s very success may have encouraged nations to rely on “covert” trade barriers (domestic measures) such as subsidies, government procurement policies or regulation in recent years. Because these administrative measures are domestic policies, it is hard to determine whether nations use such regulations with the intent to discriminate against foreign producers. Under 301 trade legislation, when the President confronts such trade barriers, he is required to investigate and sometimes to punish protectionist nations with retaliatory protection in the United States. Kaplan fears that America (because of Super 301) appears less disposed towards multilateralism and is “moving from a multilateral trade approach within the WTO to a unilateral one under which it threatens countries like Japan with tariff increases for failing to open their markets” (p. x). Had Kaplan read primary sources or Susan Schwab’s Trade-offs (Cambridge, MA, 1994) he would understand that the Clinton Administration is reluctant to use these powers, nor did it call for them.

A more careful review of the history of Uruguay Round negotiations and enabling legislation shows that both the Bush and Clinton Administrations have tried hard to broaden the rules that govern trade to include corruption and labor standards, and to complete negotiations to bring new sectors into the GATT/WTO system such as services and agriculture. This is not a protectionist record. Ironically, Jesse Helms, Pat Buchanan, and other noted protectionists frequently complain that the United States under Clinton is too supportive of multilateralism. The author ignores the Clinton Administration’s push to expand the North American free trade agreement (NAFTA); its continued leadership of global efforts to free trade; its unwillingness to cite many nations (from Argentina to India) under super 301; and its attempts to bring non-WTO members into membership (such as Saudi Arabia, China, Ukraine, and Russia). Finally, instead of relying on domestic tools to protect, the Clinton Administration seems to be relying on international tools. The U.S. is using the dispute settlement mechanism of the WTO. From January, 1995 to July, 1996, the U.S. has invoked dispute settlement in 16 cases, more than any other country in the world.

Writing a history of tariffs is a daunting task. It is hard to make it interesting. Dr. Kaplan has also teamed up with Thomas W. Ryley in an earlier book on the history of tariff policy, Prelude to Trade Wars, which does a good job at describing the politics of trade policy without being dry. The book is especially good at explaining the background of the participants and how they came to their positions. Unfortunately, the authors rely principally on secondary sources to make their case. Consequently, they are making their arguments based on the strong (or weak shoulders) of others rather than their own extensive research.

For example, describing the Emergency Tariff Act of 1921, the authors write “to all appearances in 1914, the country desired a moderate tariff bill.” To prove their point they cite one article in the American Economic Review, written in 1923. That would not convince most historians that is what the country desired.

The analysis is hampered by sloppy writing and inadequate argumentation. For example, “The McKinley Tariff … was the first of a number of tariff bills that raised duties to their highest levels in U.S. history.” Which one was the highest? All of them? Moreover, the title is a shocker. Which trade wars are the authors talking about? In the 20th century, when did the U.S. go to war over trade? The very term “trade wars” gives one the sense that trade is a zero sum game, a competition. A more plausible assumption is that entities trade because they think they can both gain.

The authors’ contribution is strongest in political history. (Ironically, the authors write for a series called Contributions in Economics and Economic History.) For those interested in the politics of American tariff making in this period, they provide a decent read. But to understand U.S. trade policy, one must understand the social, technological and economic environment, as well as the political environment..

Those readers who want to gain a better understanding of the complexities of the history of U.S. trade policy should look beyond these two books. Good books with very different perspectives include Thomas Zeiler’s American Trade and Power in the 1960s (New York, 1992); Alfred Eckes’s Opening America’s Market: U.S. Foreign Trade Policy since 1776 (Chapel Hill, NC, 1995); I.M. Destler’s American Trade Policies: System Under Stress (Washington, DC, 1995); G. John Ikenberry et al, The State and American Foreign Economic Policy (Ithaca, NY, 1984); William Becker and Samuel F. Wells, eds., Economics and World Power: An Assessment of American Diplomacy since 1789 (New York, 1984); Susan Aaronson, Trade and the American Dream (Lexington, KY, 1996); and John Dobson, Two Centuries of Tariffs (Washington, 1976).

Susan Ariel Aaronson Department of History University of North Texas and Guest Scholar in Economics The Brookings Institution

Susan Aaronson is also a regular commentator on Public Radio International’s Marketplace.

?

Subject(s):International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

Against the Tide

Author(s):Irwin, Douglas
Reviewer(s):De Long, J. Bradford

Douglas Irwin, Against the Tide: An Intellectual History of Free Trade. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996. 274 pp. Bibliography and index. $29.95 (cloth). ISBN 0691011389

Reviewed for EH.Net by Brad De Long, Department of Economics, University of California- Berkeley

Douglas Irwin has written the history of “free trade”–as an idea and as an economic policy–for our generation. His dominant organizing principle is that the move toward freer trade in economic policy has been “against the tide”- that there have been lots of reasons over the ages why free trade should not have triumphed as economic policy, and that its triumph to date is somewhat miraculous: akin to a river running uphill.

Mercantilism and Free Trade

Free trade as an idea was born in the shadow of mercantilism in early modern Britain. It is not the case that before Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations thinkers rejected the idea of trade: the notion that countries, like individuals, stand to gain from specialization (producing what they make best and most efficiently) and exchange is powerful, fundamental, and obviously true. But before Adam Smith thinkers overwhelmingly believed that imposing delicately-calculated restrictions on international commerce could boost an economy’s resources and achieve important non-economic goals as well. For example, even Adam Smith wrote that “defense is more important than opulence.”

It is hard from our current perspective to make much sense of the mercantilist writers. They were aggressively pro-export–sharply critical of restrictions that limited export. Irwin sees their doctrines as having four components:

A moral argument that foreign-produced luxuries were not worth consuming, and that the state should (for the good of those who would buy French fripperies if unrestrained) restrict imports of foreign-produced luxuries.

An unemployment-equilibrium argument that allowing imports to increase would throw people out of work.

A belief that manufacturing should be promoted to enhance economic development–perhaps with some recognition that this argument required that the benefits to society from expanding manufacturing be greater than the profits to the manufacturer.

Non-economic goals: “defense more important than opulence.”

Against mercantilism, Adam Smith established a strong presumption in favor of the economic benefits of free trade. David Ricardo nailed the case down with his exposition of “comparative advantage.” Ever since trying to construct a coherent intellectual case for trade protection has been like trying to roll Sisyphus’s stone up the hill.

This is not to say that people have not tried. The case for free trade is not absolute. It is limited by:

Worries about the distributional effects of trade–in which case free trade can boost real national product but erode social welfare if it shifts the distribution of income and wealth in an unfavorable direction.

Worries about the effect of free trade on the terms-of-trade–in which case finely-tuned protectionist measures that erode the total surplus from trade can nevertheless garner a larger surplus for the home country (under the assumption that foreign governments do not retaliate).

Worries about the effect of free trade on high-externality industries–in which case policies that restrict trade might boost external benefits by more than enough to offset the lost gains from trade.

But as Irwin eloquently argues, all these limitations of the case for free trade are fragile. In many cases trade protection is a poor second-best policy, to be avoided because there are other more direct and less costly alternative policies that will produce higher economic welfare. In other cases, close scrutiny reveals that the reasons for rejecting free trade “have foundered under the weight of the manifold qualifications that narrow the range of circumstances under which the argument is valid…. [For example] the strategic use of trade policy to shift rents between countries… hinges critically upon numerous assumptions about competitive behavior and market structure.”

Irwin thus concludes–I believe correctly–that arguments for protection are fragile and frail compared with the presumption that free trade is a good thing. To do better than free trade requires an enormous amount of knowledge and policy-making skill on the part of the government, skill that can only make things a little bit better if protectionist policies are properly applied–but could make things a lot worse if misapplied.

The Rent-Seeking Society

However strong the intellectual case for free trade, the victory of free trade as an economic policy is still quite surprising. We can run through–Irwin runs through–the standard rent-seeking society arguments:

Beneficiaries from protection know who they are.

Each beneficiary from protection gains a lot more than each consumer loses.

Beneficiaries from protection can organize easily.

The logic of politics is not the logic of market exchange–but the logic of power exercised, and identifiable favors done for those who can someday return them.

For all these reasons, governments seeking to assemble coalitions of politically powerful elites should be powerfully attracted by individual protectionist proposals. There is a principle that the set of economists is dense in the space of possible policies: for every small number epsilon, for every policy theta, there is someone who can wear a tie, speak with authority on television, and make semi-coherent arguments that some policy that is within epsilon of theta is in fact optimal. When the stakes are large the returns to being a tame politician or a tame intellectual for protectionist interests are large too, and the labor market works well enough that demand calls forth supply–and we have Pat Choate claiming with an apparently straight face that five million American manufacturing jobs are “at risk” if the United States lowers its tariffs on Mexican imports from an average level of 3% to zero.

And it was here that I found myself wishing that Douglas Irwin had written a slightly different book. For I do not believe that the production and reproduction of intellectual arguments proceeds independently of the rest of social life, and I think the links between the strength of protectionist ideas and the potential benefits to those with the wherewithal to fund the creation and distribution of protectionist ideas are very strong and very interesting. But Irwin remains at the level of the intellect. He does not descend to the sociology of ideology at all–and I think that what is a very good book is less than the Platonic Ideal of a history of free trade because of its limited scope.

In addition, there is powerful feedback from the political economy back to the case for free trade. The very strength of the political-economic pressures toward protection generated in a rent-seeking society serves to powerfully reinforce the case for free trade. Douglas Irwin quotes Paul Krugman that the most powerful case for free trade today “‘is not the old argument that free trade is optimal because markets are efficient’ but rather ‘it is a sadder-but-wiser argument for free trade as a rule-of-thumb in a world whose politics are as imperfect as its markets…. to abandon the free-trade principle in pursuit of the gains from sophisticated intervention could therefore open the door to adverse political consequences that would outweigh the potential gains.'”

The Future

Irwin concludes his book with a resounding triumphalist sentence: “Yet if the historical experiences described here continue, free trade will remain one of the most durable and robust propositions that economic analysis has to offer for the conduct of economic policy.”

I find myself much more pessimistic–not that I think that free trade does not deserve to flourish, but that I doubt that it will flourish. There are two reasons to be skeptical of the future of free trade:

The first reason is that the East Asian economies that have grown so impressively in the past two generations have not been committed to free trade. There are arguments that they have been committed to free trade in what matters most for production (if not for consumer welfare): “a free-trade regime for exports and for imports for exporting industries” is the phrase often used. There are arguments that they have been lucky not to have been badly hurt by their deviations from free trade. There are arguments that they have managed to find a set of trade restrictions that actually does promote high-externality activities and rapid growth.

Which is true is unclear.

What is clear is that for the next generation opponents of free trade will say: “Japan, Korea, Taiwan, etc. did not adopt free trade–and look how fast they grew.” And at the level of economic policymaking and public ideology, this statement has the potential to erode a lot of support for free trade.

The second reason is that arguments for protection today hinge much more on the duties that first world consumers owe third world workers than on the links between protection and first world prosperity. Does the restriction of imports that violate fair labor standards give employers in developing countries the right incentives to improve working conditions and boost social welfare? Or does it just destroy jobs in developing countries–making the life chances of the poor even worse? It is not clear. But consumers in the first world do have moral obligations toward workers in developing countries, and the economic theory of free trade sheds little light on what policies are best in light of these moral obligations.

Brad De Long Department of Economics University of California- Berkeley

?

Subject(s):International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):General or Comparative

Printers and Men of Capital: Philadelphia Book Publishers in the New Republic

Author(s):Remer, Rosalind
Reviewer(s):Scranton, Philip

Rosalind Remer, Printers and Men of Capital: Philadelphia Book Publishers in the New Republic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996. xiv + 210 pp. Illustrations, map, bibliography. $34.95 (cloth), ISBN 0812233379.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Philip Scranton, Rutgers University .

This slender monograph, which originated as a UCLA dissertation, works toward filling a temporal and analytical gap in the history of American printing and publishing. Rosalind Remer rightly notes that previous, often antiquarian, research has focused on colonial printer/publishers, often heroizing them as masters of a complex and increasingly-politicized trade. More recent studies, particularly John Tebbel’s many volumes, examined book publishers from the mid-19th century through the 1960s – an age of national marketing initiated by railway networks and confirmed through extensive advertising to consumers, book retailers, department stores, et al. Remer asks, appropriately: how did the American book trade accomplish the double transition from local to national distribution and from printing/publishing generalists to a division of labor between publishing specialists and printers, with whom they contracted for book production? Philadelphia, which with Boston and New York constituted the early republic’s centers for book making, draws her close attention.

At its opening, this study reprises colonial printers’ multi-faceted activities as job work operators, newspaper editors, importers and publishers of books and pamphlets, and retailers of same. After 1783, Philadelphia printers moved aggressively into the new republic’s early political battles, creating a series of mostly-ephemeral newspapers supporting one or another of the emerging factions (while drawing revenues from patrons to sustain their vigorous prose). The shifting tides of political advantage boosted or destroyed these printers’ ambitions, for, in business terms, “the most practical patronage came directly from government printing jobs,” available only to those backing winners (34). Though newspaper controversies raged throughout the 1790s, once the federal seat (and its revenue stream) shifted from Philadelphia to Washington in 1800, area printer/publishers paid appreciably more attention to state and local government custom and to the commercial possibilities of books. For the latter, federal influence remained relevant. Under the nation’s first copyright regulations, works published by American authors or any foreign books revised by Americans for domestic use could be defended at law against infringers. As indiscriminate reproduction of English texts had long been both part of the printer/publisher’s repertory and a competitive problem, this provision shifted the terrain. Those making books hastened to adapt, rather than duplicate, “foreign” works of history and geography, school texts, dictionaries, etc. for American audiences, thereby securing copyright protection.

Yet multiple problems remained. Printing books meant little unless they could be distributed and sold, bringing in funds to cover costs and, with luck, generating profits. Moreover, there was clearly a learning curve in mastering book production and marketing. In the two decades after 1800, a cluster of Philadelphia printing masters gradually dropped job work and newspaper ambitions to specialize in creating and vending books, in time abandoning the mechanics of printing to become contracting publishers. By 1820, this core group negotiated with authors, commissioned printing and binding, ran city book shops (some with branches) and developed national networks for distribution, thereby defining publishing as an independent vocation. Key to this process of differentiation were a series of trade organizations and gradually-refined trade practices. Although a few journeymen tried to strike out on their own as publishing entrepreneurs and others formed a short-lived labor association (the Philadelphia Typographical Society), veteran master printers had far better chances for success. Following up on a mid-1790s effort, a group of nascent publishers created the Philadelphia Company of Booksellers in 1802, which encouraged cooperation among producers to limit duplication of reprinted titles, sponsored collective promotional literature, and sought “to bring growth to the trade by encouraging… risk-sharing” (61). Thus Company members co-published a series of schoolbooks, each contributing to the expenses and subscribing for a portion of print runs. Though, like the journeymen’s Society, the Company lasted only a few years, it did bring members of this emerging network into close and fraternal contact, both with one another and with more distant printer/publishers, the latter through a series of book fairs held alternately in New York and Philadelphia. At these twice-yearly sessions, booksellers arranged “exchanges” (trading at list price copies of their imprints for those of colleagues, thus broadening their stores’ stocks), debated distribution dilemmas, and solidified wider credit relationships. The fairs, too, foundered in a few years, but the business links and trade consciousness they fostered would endure, widening the gap between publishers and ” mere” printers.

As Philadelphia’s most prominent bookman, Matthew Carey addressed the distribution obstacle by dramatically expanding an older trade practice. To get books on store shelves beyond the coastal cities, publishers had at times used commission sales, acting as quasi-wholesalers who selected and shipped parcels of books to shops in interior towns, though retaining ownership. Frequent correspondence with hundreds of vendors enabled Carey to develop an information base about what moved and what didn’t, thus identifying local and regional reading tastes. Early on, Carey also employed “a full-time book peddler” to travel the back country, in this case the celebrated Parson Weems, who sold religious tracts and took orders throughout Maryland and Virginia (130). The city’s Woodward house ultimately engaged 47 such minister-salesmen, whereas McCarty and Davis hired “professional” travelers “who derived their whole living from selling books” (136). Carey and others also collaborated on extensive co-publishing ventures with up to a dozen colleagues along the Atlantic coast, in order to finance multi-volume sets (e.g., Shakespeare, the Waverly novels), often soliciting advance subscriptions and again sharing risks and rewards.

Collectively, these marketing tactics swelled the circulation of books throughout the early republic. However, the trade’s expansion depended upon “an extraordinarily delicate business structure,” centered on credit relationships (116). Publishers rarely had cash in hand to fund printing costs, hence printers often took payment in books or discountable notes, rather than wait for publishers to amass income from sales. At the other end of the pipeline, rural shops and peddlers were notorious slow-pays and, laterally, publishers usually had elaborate interfirm credits and debts, carried on their accounts. In this regard, Remer elegantly explicates publishers’ accounting practices and demonstrates that their complex credit networks reinforced a workable sense of community. Publishers routinely endorsed notes for printers and one another, and just as routinely, extended them, for protesting a default, much less instituting a lawsuit over a debt, could set off widening ripples of credit collapse. Indeed, when Carey refused to extend an endorsement for C. and A. Conrad, forcing their bankruptcy, the outcome haunted him for years, not least because his fellow creditors stripped the firm’s principal assets while Carey was out of town, leaving “not… a single dollar’s worth for me” (119). He lost $22,000 in the affair. Though Remer does not press the point, I’d consider this sequence a trade community’s exemplary revenge on a member who had broken unwritten compacts and threatened its fragile foundations of trust and credit.

Overall, Remer’s study provides a corrective to earlier scholars who dated the divorce of publishing and printing to the mid-nineteenth century and regarded publishers’ marketing efforts before the railroad age as minimal. Equally valuable is her reconstruction of the extensive interactions among publishers, of their business practices and networked credit relations, and of their growing self-awareness as a community promoting both entrepreneurship and “a national society and culture” (152). Though the writing is at times wooden (passive voice abounds), this work should be welcomed as a substantive contribution to understanding a crucial economic sector’s transformation in the early decades of the republic.

Philip Scranton Department of History Rutgers University at Camden

?

Subject(s):Business History
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):19th Century