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Higher Tariffs, Lower Revenues? Analyzing the Fiscal Aspects of the "Great Tariff Debate of 1888"

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  • Douglas A. Irwin

Abstract

After the Civil War, Congress justified high import tariffs (relative to their prewar levels)" as necessary in order to raise sufficient revenue to pay off the public debt. By the early 1880s the federal government was running large and seemingly intractable fiscal surpluses revenues" exceeded expenditures (including debt service and repurchases) by over 40 percent during that" decade. The political parties proposed alternative plans to deal with the surplus: the Democrats" proposed a tariff reduction to reduce customs revenue, the Republicans offered higher tariffs to" reduce imports and customs revenue. This paper examines this debate and attempts to determine" the revenue effects of the proposed tariff changes. The results indicate that the tariff and the price elasticity of U.S. import demand during the 1880s below the maximum revenue rate, and therefore a tariff reduction would have reduced customs" revenue.

Suggested Citation

  • Douglas A. Irwin, 1997. "Higher Tariffs, Lower Revenues? Analyzing the Fiscal Aspects of the "Great Tariff Debate of 1888"," NBER Working Papers 6239, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6239
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    Cited by:

    1. Desai, Mihir A. & Dyck, Alexander & Zingales, Luigi, 2007. "Theft and taxes," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(3), pages 591-623, June.
    2. Douglas A. Irwin, 2001. "Tariffs and Growth in Late Nineteenth Century America," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 24(1), pages 15-30, January.
    3. McKenzie, David & Ozler, Berk, 2011. "The impact of economics blogs," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5783, The World Bank.
    4. Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2003. "Was It Stolper-Samuelson, Infant Industry or Something Else? World Trade Tariffs 1789-1938," NBER Working Papers 9656, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Phillip Magness, 2009. "Constitutional tariffs, incidental protection, and the Laffer relationship in the early United States," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 20(2), pages 177-192, June.
    6. Douglas A. Irwin, 2007. "Trade Restrictiveness and Deadweight Losses from U.S. Tariffs, 1859-1961," NBER Working Papers 13450, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Douglas A. Irwin, 2000. "Ohlin Versus Stolper-Samuelson?," NBER Working Papers 7641, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Douglas A. Irwin, 2014. "Tariff Incidence: Evidence from U.S. Sugar Duties, 1890-1930," NBER Working Papers 20635, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Tena Junguito, Antonio, 2001. "Measuring protection over time : revenue and protective products in the 19th century European tariff growth debate," IFCS - Working Papers in Economic History.WH wh017204, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. Instituto Figuerola.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N71 - Economic History - - Economic History: Transport, International and Domestic Trade, Energy, and Other Services - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • H6 - Public Economics - - National Budget, Deficit, and Debt

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