Peet-_Deconstructiong_free_trade - Commentary Blackwell...

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Trans Inst Br Geogr NS 32 576–580 2007 ISSN 0020-2754 © 2007 The Author. Journal compilation © Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) 2007 Blackwel Publishing Ltd Commentary Deconstructing free trade: from epistemic communities to ideological communities in struggle Richard Peet Graduate School of Geography, Clark University, Worcester, MA 01610, USA email: revised manuscript received 22 March 2007 Eric Sheppard (2005) presents a well-argued, beautifully-written and thoroughly-researched article on the Manchester School’s promotion of the free trade doctrine into contemporary neoliberal dis- course. The article is empirically and historically innovative, in that it covers new ground in elaborating the significance of the Anti-Corn Law League in the making of the free trade idea. It is theoretically innovative, in that it provides a superb, dense history of free trade theory. And it is geographically innovative in its notion of local epistemic communities shar[ing] a relatively homo- genous space – in the sense of shared language games and compatible backgrounds, training and identity. . . . Manchester and England were critical places for con- structing the free trade doctrine. (Sheppard 2005, 153) The article is so well conceived that it anticipates, by mentioning, the main elements of the criticisms I am (inevitably) about to make. So I want to be clear: I come to praise Eric through constructive critique rather than bury him in clever, caustic remarks. Succinctly, I think the article makes two mistakes of emphasis: it over-emphasises the importance of the Manchester industrialists led by Richard Cobden in establishing free trade as an acceptable and practical doctrine, at the expense of under-emphasising the role already played by the classical political economists in setting the terms of debate; and it over- emphasises the spatiality of knowledge production at the expense of under-emphasising the ideological construction of knowledge. Both prevent something from being said that is of vital importance to the critique of free trade, neoliberal style: free trade theory, based in the notion of comparative advantage, has been wrong from the beginning. In terms of the first criticism, Eric traces the history of the free trade doctrine from Smith and Ricardo, through Hecksher, Ohlin and Samuelson, to Krugman and others. But he spends most of the article on the social movement begun in London in 1836 and re-locating to Manchester soon after that opposed the Corn Laws, passed by Parliament in 1816 to regulate the price of wheat in Britain. In doing so, Eric scarcely mentions the first anti-Corn Law, pro-Free Trade movement that had already set the theoretical and political context for the later Manchester school – the classical economists, the Benthamite philosophical radicals, the bourgeois revolutionary theorists and members of parliament active in London since the early nineteenth century. Trade and its principles had been widely discussed
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Peet-_Deconstructiong_free_trade - Commentary Blackwell...

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