Economic Governance in the Empire-Commonwealth in Theory and in Practice, c. 1887-1975

Andrew Dilley*

*Corresponding author for this work

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After a long spell of neglect, historians in the last twenty years have started again to take an interest in the economics of the ‘British World’: an entity centred on Britain and the dominions. Their approach emphasises shared culture and networks. By contrast this article reasserts the importance of institutions of governance in shaping economic transactions and hence the importance of political (not cultural) economy. In order to re-emphasise the connected importance of co-ordination between states within the Empire, it prefers the term Empire-Commonwealth to British world, a term more closely grounded in contemporary language. It argues that the Empire-Commonwealth possessed complex, patchy, but discernible practices of economic governance which the paper delineates and argues were shaped by the overriding concern to maximise the autonomy of self-governing members (Britain and the dominions). These practices let to cooperation over preferential trading arrangements, currency, taxation, migration and investment, law and regulation, and transport and communications. After 1945 the international framework which sustained these practices transformed, while the internal dynamics of the post-imperial Commonwealth made significant cooperation on matters other than aid and development in the global south unlikely. The possibility of broad-ranging governance receded even as intra-Commonwealth trade and investment declined.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-82
Number of pages20
JournalThe Journal of Research Institute for the History of Global Arms Transfer
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2020


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