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Tariffs and Growth in Late Nineteenth Century America


  • Douglas A. Irwin


Were high import tariffs somehow related to the strong U.S. economic growth during the late nineteenth century? This paper examines this frequently mentioned but controversial question and investigates the channels by which tariffs could have promoted growth during this period. The paper shows that: (i) late nineteenth century growth hinged more on population expansion and capital accumulation than on productivity growth; (ii) tariffs may have discouraged capital accumulation by raising the price of imported capital goods; (iii) productivity growth was most rapid in non-traded sectors (such as utilities and services) whose performance was not directly related to the tariff.
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Suggested Citation

  • Douglas A. Irwin, 2001. "Tariffs and Growth in Late Nineteenth Century America," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 24(1), pages 15-30, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:worlde:v:24:y:2001:i:1:p:15-30

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Irwin, Douglas A., 1998. "Higher Tariffs, Lower Revenues? Analyzing the Fiscal Aspects of “The Great Tariff Debate of 1888”," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(01), pages 59-72, March.
    2. O'Rourke, Kevin Hjortshøj, 1997. "Tariffs and Growth in the Late Nineteenth Century," CEPR Discussion Papers 1700, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    3. Francisco Rodriguez & Dani Rodrik, 1999. "Trade Policy and Economic Growth: A Skeptic's Guide to Cross-National Evidence," NBER Working Papers 7081, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. David H. Romer & Jeffrey A. Frankel, 1999. "Does Trade Cause Growth?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(3), pages 379-399, June.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Tarifas e crescimento no século XIX
      by Thomas H. Kang in Oikomania on 2012-02-24 18:24:00


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    Cited by:

    1. Antonio Tena Junguito, 2010. "Tariff History Lessons from the European Periphery. Protection Intensity and the Infant Industry Argument in Spain and Italy 1870-1930," Historical Social Research (Section 'Cliometrics'), Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC), vol. 35(1), pages 340-363.
    2. Tena Junguito, Antonio, 2008. "Bairoch revisited : tariff structure and growth in the late 19th century," IFCS - Working Papers in Economic History.WH wp08-04, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. Instituto Figuerola.
    3. Yilmaz Akyuz, 2005. "The WTO Negotiations on Industrial Tariffs: What is at Stake for Developing Countries?," Working Papers 2005/8, Turkish Economic Association.
    4. repec:spr:laecrv:v:27:y:2018:i:1:d:10.1007_s40503-017-0050-9 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Carlo Pietrobelli & Silvia Nenci, 2007. "Does tariff liberalization promote trade? Latin America in the long run (1900-2000)," Working Papers 0704, CREI Università degli Studi Roma Tre, revised 2007.
    6. Prema-Chandra Athukorala, 2011. "Trade Liberalisation and The Poverty of Nations: A Review Article," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 47(3), pages 533-543.
    7. Raymond G. Riezman & John Whalley & Shunming Zhang, 2013. "Metrics capturing the degree to which individual economies are globalized," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 45(36), pages 5046-5061, December.
    8. Yilmaz Akyüz, 2005. "The WTO Negotiations on Industrial Tariffs : What is at Stake for Developing Countries?," Trade Working Papers 22080, East Asian Bureau of Economic Research.
    9. Nicholas Crafts & Anthony Venables, 2003. "Globalization in History.A Geographical Perspective," NBER Chapters,in: Globalization in Historical Perspective, pages 323-370 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Michael A. Clemens & Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2001. "A Tariff-Growth Paradox? Protection's Impact the World Around 1875-1997," NBER Working Papers 8459, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Douglas A. Irwin, 2002. "Interpreting the Tariff-Growth Correlation of the Late Nineteenth Century," NBER Working Papers 8739, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Crafts, Nicholas, 2012. "British relative economic decline revisited: The role of competition," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 49(1), pages 17-29.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • F13 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Trade Policy; International Trade Organizations
    • N11 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913


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