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Cobden's Pyrrhic Victory

Bill Clinton and Richard Cobden, a 19th-century English anti-Corn Law crusader, have more in common than consonants in their surnames. As economic internationalists, both trumpeted commerce as the panacea for attaining world peace and prosperity. In their own ways, both bear responsibility for the new international economic order which rests on the twin foundations of universal free trade and world economic government.

"Democracy and free trade go hand in hand," Bill Clinton asserted at the Miami Summit of the Americas in December 1994. He promised that "free trade will vicld dramatic benefits in terms of growth and jobs and higher incomes." hi the use of free-trade hyperbole, few other than Cobden surpassed Clinton's rhetorical excesses. In 1835, the Manchester cotton manufacturer praised commerce as "the grand panacea, which, like a beneficent medical discovery, will serve to inoculate with the healthy and saving taste for civilization all the nations of the world." An evangelical free-trader, Cobden envisaged free trade "drawing men together, thrusting aside the antagonism of race and creed, and language, and uniting us in the bonds of eternal peace."

Not until Clinton's presidency did Cobdenism finally triumph in America. It took 150 years—and along the way free-trade crusaders experienced a number of defeats. One occurred at the end of World War I, when President...

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