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Standards Wars and the Original Competing Kings of Cotton

Standards Wars and the Original Competing Kings of Cotton

(p.37) Chapter Two Standards Wars and the Original Competing Kings of Cotton
Global Rivalries
Amy A. Quark
University of Chicago Press

This chapter demonstrates the leverage gained by embedding theories of institutional change within the global capitalist system through an analysis of a standards war between Liverpool merchants and a coalition of the U.S. state, merchants, and cotton producers from the 1870s to the 1920s. This chapter demonstrates how merchants from Liverpool constructed their private authority over quality standards and dispute settlement as part of a broader project of British-led market liberalism in the 1870s. While this liberal market project remade the cotton trade in its image, it also unleashed the creative and destructive dynamics of capitalism and generated both new rivals and marginalized actors, particularly in the United States, who sought to challenge these governance institutions. These challenges brought a conflict-driven process of change through which the U.S. state wrested institutional power from private merchants and generated new hybrid, transnational institutions that were the product of an incremental and competitive reconstitution of the rules. This chapter demonstrates that institutional change must be understood through an analysis of path dependencies, strategic efforts on the part of actors, and their embeddedness in broader, historically specific processes of capital accumulation on a world scale.

Keywords:   Standards war, United States, Britain, Merchants, Market liberalism, Institutional change, Capital accumulation, Private authority

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