Project B11 (2022-2025)

Protectionism and Social Policy in the Americas, 1890-2020

This project investigates the correlation between social policy and protectionism in the modern history of Argentina and the United States. The timeframe under investigation ranges from the Belle Époque of globalisation prior to 1914, to the time of deglobalisation in the age of the world wars and the Great Depression, to the second wave of economic globalisation that began in the 1950s and which has gained a new quality and dynamic since the 1980s.

In a first step, the project aims to identify the critical turning points and sequences of social and trade policy in both countries by employing the coverage of their measures and their generosity as key indicators. The second step centres on analysing and explaining the correlations between the two levels. The timeframe under investigation of more than a century allows for the observation of quite diverse constellations with regard to social and trade policy: in part, protectionism and social policy acted as functional equivalents, serving to protect certain groups from the consequences of global economic integration or to indemnify them from their fallout. In other cases, they mutually reinforced each other, such as when welfare programmes were financed through tariff revenue or when trade restrictions facilitated the development of industries, whose workforces demanded the introduction of social security systems. Ultimately, social standards could also serve as useful protectionist instruments in preventing imports from low-wage countries.

With its focus on Argentina and the United States of America, the project investigates countries, which, prior to the First World War, were both marked by high economic output, substantial immigration and a high-protectionist tradition reaching far back into the 19th century. In this light, the project aims to explain, by employing methods of historical comparison, why Argentina and the United States took completely different directions in developing both social policy and trade policy in the 20th century. But it is not only by means of historical comparison that the project transcends the analytical unit of the nation state – a unit which is often used as a self-evident baseline in studies on the history of the welfare state. Rather, it assumes that the central driving forces in the development of social and trade policy do not play out within the scope of the nation state but can only be explained from a transnational approach based on a global history perspective. In taking this approach, the project focuses primarily on three dynamics and the impulses emanating from them: the change in global economic parameters, the impact of supranational treaties or organisations like the GATT or the WTO and the consequences of transnational transfers of models and practices in social and trade policy.