Confronting the Developmental State: American Trade Policy in the Neoliberal Era

Tom Wraight

Research output: Book/ReportPhD thesis

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In the past four decades American foreign economic policy has become increasingly preoccupied with the challenge of the East Asian developmental state. This was a challenge faced first with the economic rise of Japan in the 1980s, and now, since the 2000s, with the rise of China. This thesis examines the way US policymakers have responded to the challenge of the East Asian developmental state. Specifically, it charts the emergence of an ‘antidevelopmentalist’ order within US foreign economic policy which views the industrial policies of foreign states as a serious threat to American interests and sanctions the use of aggressive unilateralist trade policy in response to this threat.
Drawing on recent advances in ideational scholarship as well as the concept of intercurrence in American Political Development (APD), I argue that this anti-developmentalist order reflects a uniquely American relationship with developmentalism as an ideology. American political development has long been shaped by a tension between developmentalist and liberal notions of economic governance. This tension became particularly acute during the ‘industrial policy
debate’ of the 1970s/1980s when elements on the left sought to advance a national industrial policy as an alternative to the emerging neoliberal paradigm presaged by the Reagan revolution. The result of this, I argue, was a process of ‘ideational reassociation’ where industrial policy was dismissed as impractical in the US but regarded nevertheless as effective and dangerous when practiced by East Asian states. Contained within this was the corollary that, if the US did not wish to see continued competitive decline it needed a new kind of trade policy, capable of confronting the East Asian developmental state.
In making this argument, the thesis sheds light on an important aspect of contemporary US foreign economic policy. It also advances theoretical debates concerning the role of ideas in politics and how the interaction of competing paradigms can have significant and surprising implications. The argument also helps explain the radical reorientation of US trade policy which took place in the Trump administration as well as the institutional and ideational factors driving
the US-China confrontation today.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationFrederiksberg
PublisherCopenhagen Business School [Phd]
Number of pages201
ISBN (Print)9788775680368
ISBN (Electronic)9788775680382
Publication statusPublished - 2021
SeriesPhD Series

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