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Portugal and the International Economy: Emigration and Protectionism, 1890-1911

By Joaquim Costa Leite


In the late nineteenth century the development of a global economy created new problems and opportunities. As a backward country, Portugal reacted defensively in terms of trade, while the Portuguese emigrated in increasing numbers. When analyzed together, the two aspects reveal the influence of an old agrarian contrast: in Northern Portugal, characterized by the predominant cultivation of maize in the Northwest and rye in the Northeast, emigration curbed the potential growth of the active agrarian population; in Southern Portugal, the absence of emigration and wheat protection combined to keep more population on the land. Thus, even the limited economic adjustment initiated in the North was countered by agricultural protectionism based in the wheat lands of the South. While the price of wheat declined markedly in the more developed European economies, in Portugal it increased significantly, contributing to the erosion of the purchasing power of industrial wages.

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