Rhetoric of economic nationalism

Uzelac, Gordana (2019) Rhetoric of economic nationalism. In: 2019 ASN World Convention, 2 May - 4 May 2019, Columbia University, New York City. (Unpublished)


It is a 'well-known fact' - at least among economists, political economists, and in public perception - that Economic Liberalism and Economic Nationalism are antitheses. In circles of economic liberals, economic nationalism was a term used to describe 'policies they did not like ' (Helleiner, 2002: 308-9), as 'everything that did not fit in with the liberal definition of economy and development’ (Koffman, 1990). It is generally seen among these as a rise in protectionism, as neo-mercantilism (Pryke, 2012), as an idea that 'economic activities are and should be subordinate to the goals of state building and the interests of the state' (Gilpin, 1987: 31). Seen as such a set of policies, Economic Nationalism is construed as the main obstacle to the true free market economies.

This paper rejects those views and follows recent approaches that rightly see economic nationalism as a form of nationalism, not of an economy. Hence, it claims that economic nationalism cannot be seen just as a set of policies, but as a variety of discourses and practices. It holds that the economy is not only about production, consumption, and distribution, but also a source of symbols, myths and memories burdened with values and norms that are seen as national. And it is these symbolic forms of economy that are the main focus of rhetoric of economic nationalism.

The emergence of economic nationalism in the political discourse of Britain in not a new event, but it gained new fervour since the economic crisis of 2008 and, expectedly, since the start of the EU referendum campaign in April 2016. The new form of political ideology that was emerging not only around the so-called Brexit block often used rhetoric seemingly not compatible with the official ideology and practice of free market society. In order to examine main ideas and concepts, explanations and vocabulary of the economic nationalism in Britain this paper analyses speeches and writings of one of the main proponents of this ideology – Boris Johnson. It examines the symbolic perception of 'one’s own' economy, the perception of global and regional institutions, and the perception of 'economic Other'. It maps and compares the nationalist discourse in these speeches and writings applied to different segments of economic life, especially in employment and migration, consumption, financial sovereignty, and productivity. Finally, the analysis attempts to identify the rhetoric of national branding, appeal to national economic solidarity and economic sacrifice, use of economic scapegoatism and call for the protection of national culture and tradition.

The paper concludes that the rhetoric of economic nationalism used and developed in Britain cannot be seen as incompatible with the ideology and practice of free market society, but rather as a buffer that attempts to compensate their failures.

Rhetoric-of-economic-nationalism_2019.04.30.pdf - Accepted Version

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