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Who Protected and Why? Tariffs the World Around 1870-1938


  • Christopher Blattman
  • Michael A. Clemens
  • Jeffrey G. Williamson


This paper uses a new database to establish a set of tariff facts that have not been well appreciated: tariff rates in Latin America were far higher than anywhere else in the century before the Great Depression; while lower than Latin America, tariffs were far higher in the European periphery and the Englishspeaking new world than they were in the European core; tariff rates rose everywhere in the periphery up to 1900, and then moderated a bit up to WWI; and the great anti-global leap during the 1930s in Latin American and the European periphery was not new policy territory since these two regions had plenty of previous experience with very high tariffs. These world tariff facts need an explanation, especially since economic historians have pretty much ignored them while devoting so much attention to Europe. As we search for the explanations, we find that modern endogenous tariff theory isn’t quite up to the task. The paper uses this world wide sample of 35 countries as a panel to explore competing hypotheses as to what drove policy in the century before WWII: revenue motivation; optimal tariffs; strategic tariffs; deindustrialization fears; Stolper-Samueson forces; and many more. The world environment mattered. Trading partners mattered. Domestic geography, factor endowments, institutions and politics mattered.

Suggested Citation

  • Christopher Blattman & Michael A. Clemens & Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2003. "Who Protected and Why? Tariffs the World Around 1870-1938," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 2010, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  • Handle: RePEc:fth:harver:2010

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    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Trade Openness / Tariff rates
      by kdmtz in Devecondata on 2015-12-14 19:15:00


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    Cited by:

    1. Kevin H. O'Rourke & Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2002. "From Malthus to Ohlin: Trade, Growth and Distribution Since 1500," CEG Working Papers 20023, Trinity College Dublin, Department of Economics.
    2. Francisco J. Buera & Alexander Monge‐Naranjo & Giorgio E. Primiceri, 2011. "Learning the Wealth of Nations," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 79(1), pages 1-45, January.
    3. Frederic L. Pryor, 2004. "Economic Systems of OECD Nations: Impact and Evolution," Papers on Economics and Evolution 2004-14, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.

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