Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription or Fee Access

Varieties of American neomercantilism: From the first years of the Republic to Trumpian economic nationalism

Eric Helleiner

Full Text: PDF



Recent literature analysing the ideology of economic nationalism has shown how it comes in many different varieties, including even some that endorse free trade and economic liberalisation. Within this literature, less attention has been devoted to the diversity that might exist within the neomercantilist strands of economic nationalism that support strategic protectionism and other forms of government economic activism in order to bolster their nation-state’s wealth and power in the world. This article explores this issue by focusing on neomercantilist ideas in the American economic nationalist tradition. The American case is important partly because of its systemic significance in an age when the Trump administration has embraced neomercantilist economic nationalist ideas. But it is also important because Trump and his supporters have suggested that their neomercantilist ideology is part of a cohesive national tradition dating back to the early days of the American republic. By focusing on the important ideas of Alexander Hamilton and Henry Carey, this article shows that that early American neomercantilism had much more diverse content than this portrayal suggests. It also highlights how Trumpian economic nationalism itself represents yet one more variety of American neomercantilism whose content differs from that of these earlier thinkers in important ways.

Keywords: neomercantilism, economic nationalism, protectionism, Alexander Hamilton, Henry Carey, Donald Trump