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Peddling Protectionism: Smoot-Hawley and the Great Depression

Author

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  • Douglas A. Irwin

Abstract

The Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1930, which raised U.S. duties on hundreds of imported goods to record levels, is America's most infamous trade law. It is often associated with--and sometimes blamed for--the onset of the Great Depression, the collapse of world trade, and the global spread of protectionism in the 1930s. Even today, the ghosts of congressmen Reed Smoot and Willis Hawley haunt anyone arguing for higher trade barriers; almost single-handedly, they made protectionism an insult rather than a compliment. In Peddling Protectionism, Douglas Irwin provides the first comprehensive history of the causes and effects of this notorious measure, explaining why it largely deserves its reputation for combining bad politics and bad economics and harming the U.S. and world economies during the Depression. In four brief, clear chapters, Irwin presents an authoritative account of the politics behind Smoot-Hawley, its economic consequences, the foreign reaction it provoked, and its aftermath and legacy. Starting as a Republican ploy to win the farm vote in the 1928 election by increasing duties on agricultural imports, the tariff quickly grew into a logrolling, pork barrel free-for-all in which duties were increased all around, regardless of the interests of consumers and exporters. After Herbert Hoover signed the bill, U.S. imports fell sharply and other countries retaliated by increasing tariffs on American goods, leading U.S. exports to shrivel as well. While Smoot-Hawley was hardly responsible for the Great Depression, Irwin argues, it contributed to a decline in world trade and provoked discrimination against U.S. exports that lasted decades. Peddling Protectionism tells a fascinating story filled with valuable lessons for trade policy today.

Suggested Citation

  • Douglas A. Irwin, 2011. "Peddling Protectionism: Smoot-Hawley and the Great Depression," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 9430.
  • Handle: RePEc:pup:pbooks:9430
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Sophie Meunier, 2013. "The dog that did not bark: Anti-Americanism and the 2008 financial crisis in Europe," Review of International Political Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 20(1), pages 1-25, February.
    2. Jacks, David S. & Novy, Dennis, 2019. "Trade Blocs and Trade Wars during the Interwar Period," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 1197, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    3. Bown, Chad P. & Crowley, Meredith A., 2014. "Emerging economies, trade policy, and macroeconomic shocks," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 111(C), pages 261-273.
    4. David S. Jacks, 2011. "Defying Gravity: The 1932 Imperial Economic Conference and the Reorientation of Canadian Trade," NBER Working Papers 17242, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Arvind Subramanian, 2013. "Preserving the Open Global Economic System: A Strategic Blueprint for China and the United States," Policy Briefs PB13-16, Peterson Institute for International Economics.
    6. Gabriel Siles-BrĂ¼gge, 2014. "Explaining the resilience of free trade: The Smoot-Hawley myth and the crisis," Review of International Political Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 21(3), pages 535-574, June.
    7. repec:eaa:aeinde:v:17:y:2017:i:1_5 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Bernard Hoekman & Douglas Nelson, 2018. "21st Century Trade Agreements and the Owl of Minerva," RSCAS Working Papers 2018/04, European University Institute.
    9. Bown, Chad P. & Crowley, Meredith A., 2013. "Import protection, business cycles, and exchange rates: Evidence from the Great Recession," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(1), pages 50-64.
    10. Gawande, Kishore & Hoekman, Bernard & Cui, Yue, 2011. "Determinants of trade policy responses to the 2008 financial crisis," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5862, The World Bank.
    11. Spoerer Mark & Streb Jochen, 2014. "Die Weimarer Republik in der Weltwirtschaftskrise: Geschichte oder Erfahrung?," Perspektiven der Wirtschaftspolitik, De Gruyter, vol. 15(4), pages 291-306, December.

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