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Tariffs and the Great Depression revisited

  • Mario J. Crucini
  • James Kahn

Drawing on recent business cycle research on the Great Depression, we return to an argument we advanced in a 1996 article in the Journal of Monetary conomics - the argument that features of the Hawley-Smoot tariffs could have done more to decrease economic activity than is customarily believed, though not enough to account for the severe decline of the early 1930s. Here we reformulate our argument in a business cycle accounting framework that apportions fluctuations between three types of "wedges": (productive) inefficiency, the consumption-leisure margin, and intertemporal inefficiency. Tariff increases in our model correspond primarily to productive inefficiency in a prototype one-sector model. Moreover, the wedge implied by tariffs during the Depression correlates well with the overall measure of productive inefficiency. Our model fails to produce a labor wedge of any onsequence-persuasive evidence that factors other than tariffs also contributed significantly to the severity of the Depression.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of New York in its series Staff Reports with number 172.

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Date of creation: 2003
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fednsr:172
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  1. Douglas A. Irwin & Randall S. Kroszner, 1996. "Log-Rolling and Economic Interests in the Passage of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff," NBER Working Papers 5510, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Robert E. Hall, 1997. "Macroeconomic Fluctuations and the Allocation of Time," NBER Working Papers 5933, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. David K. Backus & Patrick J. Kehoe, 1991. "International evidence on the historical properties of business cycles," Staff Report 145, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  4. Lee E. Ohanian, 2001. "Why did productivity fall so much during the Great Depression?," Staff Report 285, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  5. Rogerson, Richard, 1988. "Indivisible labor, lotteries and equilibrium," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(1), pages 3-16, January.
  6. Casey B. Mulligan, 2002. "A Dual Method of Empirically Evaluating Dynamic Competitive Equilibrium Models with Market Distortions, Applied to the Great Depression & World War II," NBER Working Papers 8775, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Fabrizio Perri & Vincenzo Quadrini, 2002. "The Great Depression in Italy: Trade Restrictions and Real Wage Rigidities," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 5(1), pages 128-151, January.
  8. V. V. Chari & Patrick J. Kehoe & Ellen R. McGrattan, 2007. "Business Cycle Accounting," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 75(3), pages 781-836, 05.
  9. Jordi Galí & Mark Gertler & J. David López-Salido, 2005. "Markups, gaps and the welfare costs of business fluctuations," Economics Working Papers 836, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
  10. Crucini, Mario J. & Kahn, James, 1996. "Tariffs and aggregate economic activity: Lessons from the Great Depression," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(3), pages 427-467, December.
  11. McDonald, Judith A. & O'Brien, Anthony Patrick & Callahan, Colleen M., 1997. "Trade Wars: Canada's Reaction to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 57(04), pages 802-826, December.
  12. Barry Eichengreen, 1986. "The Political Economy of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff," NBER Working Papers 2001, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Casey B. Mulligan, 2002. "A Century of Labor-Leisure Distortions," NBER Working Papers 8774, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. John Whalley, 1984. "Trade Liberalization among Major World Trading Areas," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262231204, June.
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