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Tariff Incidence in America's Gilded Age

  • Douglas A. Irwin

In the late nineteenth century, the United States imposed high tariffs to protect domestic manufacturers from foreign competition. This paper examines the magnitude of protection given to import-competing producers and the costs imposed on export-oriented producers by focusing on changes in the domestic prices of traded goods relative to non-traded goods. Because the tariffs tended to increase the prices of non-traded goods, the degree of protection was much less than indicated by nominal rates of protection; the results here suggest that the 30 percent average tariff on imports yielded a 15 percent implicit subsidy to import-competing producers while effectively taxing exporters at a rate of 11 percent. The paper also finds that tariff policy redistributed large amounts of income (about 9 percent of GDP) across groups, although the impact on consumers was only slightly negative because they devoted a sizeable share of their expenditures to exportable goods. These findings may explain why import-competing producers pressed for even greater protection in the face of already high tariffs and why consumers (as voters) did not strongly oppose the policy.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 12162.

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Date of creation: Apr 2006
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Publication status: published as Irwin, Douglas A., 2007. "Tariff Incidence in America's Gilded Age," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 67(03), pages 582-607, September.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12162
Note: DAE ITI
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