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The Free Trade Epidemic of the 1860s and Other Outbreaks of Economic Discrimination

  • David Lazer (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 June 2011

Why was there an abrupt increase in economic openness in Europe in the 1860s? This increase may have been the result of a contagion process, in which the Cobden-Chevalier treaty between Britain and France threatened to displace third-party exports to France with British exports. As a result, most European states signed similar treaties with France, which had further ripple effects.

This article outlines a formal model of this process, based on the assumption that an agreement between two states increases the desirability of similar treaties to third parties. Propositions regarding the rate and pattern of spread of treaties are derived from this model. This article then discusses the insights these propositions may offer into the rise and fall of the most-favorednation network of treaties between 1860 and 1929.

At a theoretical level the model aims to link the microlevel processes underlying state preferences to system-level phenomena. At a substantive level this analysis offers insight into the current explosion of regionalism.

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World Politics
  • ISSN: 0043-8871
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