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The Political Economy of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff

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  • Barry Eichengreen

Abstract

Economic histories of the interwar years view the Great Depression and the Smoot Hawley Tariff as inextricably bound up with one another. They assign a central role to the Depression in explaining the passage of the 1930 Tariff Act and at the same time emphasize the role of the tariff in the propogation of the Depression. This paper argues that popular accounts have conveyed what is at best an incomplete and at worst a misleading impression of the relationship between the tariff and the Depression. Rather than simply strengthening the hand of a Republican Executive predisposed toward protection or increasing the burden borne by a depressed agricultural sector, the uneven impact of the Depression occasioned the birth of a new protectionist coalition comprised of producers particularly hard hit by import competition: border agriculture and small-scale industry engaged in the production of speciality goods. Rather than leading to a dramatic across-the-board decline in the volume of U.S. imports, the tariff had very different effects across sectors. Rather than worsening the Great Depression by reducing foreign demands for U.S. exports, the direct macroeconomic effect of the tariff is likely to have been expansionary. This remains true even when feedbacks to the United States and foreign retaliation are analyzed. In any case, relative to the Depression, the direct macroeconomic effects of the tariff were small. If Smoot-Hawley had significant macroeconomic effects, these operated instead through its impact on the stability of the international monetary system and the efficiency of the international capital market.

Suggested Citation

  • Barry Eichengreen, 1986. "The Political Economy of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff," NBER Working Papers 2001, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2001
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    Cited by:

    1. Mario J. Crucini & James Kahn, 2003. "Tariffs and the Great Depression Revisited," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 0316, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.
    2. Dan Herman, 2012. "The missing movement: a Polanyian analysis of pre-crisis America," International Journal of Social Economics, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 39(8), pages 624-641, June.
    3. Michael Mussa, 2000. "Factors driving global economic integration," Proceedings - Economic Policy Symposium - Jackson Hole, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, pages 9-55.
    4. Muhammad, Shahbaz & Lean, Hooi Hooi & Muhammad, Shahbaz Shabbir, 2011. "Environmental Kuznets Curve and the role of energy consumption in Pakistan," MPRA Paper 34929, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 22 Nov 2011.
    5. Irwin, Douglas A. & Kroszner, Randall S., 1996. "Log-rolling and economic interests in the passage of the Smoot-Hawley tariff," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 45(1), pages 173-200, December.
    6. Barry Eichengreen, 1988. "Resolving Debt Crises: An Historical Perspective," NBER Working Papers 2555, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Ryan Stever, 2007. "Bank size, credit and the sources of bank market risk," BIS Working Papers 238, Bank for International Settlements.
    8. Muhammad Shahbaz & Nanthakumar Loganathan & Aviral Tiwari & Reza Sherafatian-Jahromi, 2015. "Financial Development and Income Inequality: Is There Any Financial Kuznets Curve in Iran?," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 124(2), pages 357-382, November.
    9. Adolfo Sachsida & Mario Jorge C. de Mendonça & Fabio Stallivieri, 2007. "Ex-Convicts Face Multiple Labor Market Punishments: Estimates of Peer-Group and Stigma Effects Using Equations of Returns to Schooling," Economia, ANPEC - Associação Nacional dos Centros de Pós-Graduação em Economia [Brazilian Association of Graduate Programs in Economics], vol. 8(3), pages .503-520.

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