Ideal Taxes Association

Raymond Richman       -       Jesse Richman       -       Howard Richman

 Richmans' Trade and Taxes Blog



Smoot-Hawley did not cause the Great Depression
Howard Richman, 4/11/2010

Ian Fletcher, author of Free Trade Doesn't Work: What Should Replace it and Why? had an excellent commentary in the Americnan Thinker on Friday (Protectionism Did Not Cause the Great Recession). Here's how he begins:

The debate over free trade is riddled with myth after myth. One that keeps resurfacing, no matter how many times it is discredited, is the idea that protectionism caused the Great Depression. One occasionally even hears that this same protectionism -- specifically, the Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1930 -- was responsible in significant part for World War Two! This is nonsense dreamed up for propaganda purposes by free traders, and it can easily be debunked.

Let's start by reminding ourselves of a basic fact: The Depression's cause was monetary. The Federal Reserve had allowed the money supply to balloon excessively during the late 1920s, causing it to pile up in the stock market as a bubble. The Fed then panicked, miscalculated, and let the money supply collapse by a third by 1933, depriving the economy of the liquidity it needed to breathe. Trade had nothing to do with it.

The Smoot-Hawley tariff was simply too small a policy change to have so large an effect as triggering a depression. For a start, it applied to only about one-third of America's trade: about 1.3 percent of our GDP. One point three percent! America's average tariff on goods subject to tariff went from 44.6 to 53.2 percent -- not a very big jump at all. America's tariffs were higher in almost every year from 1821 to 1914. Our tariffs went up in 1861, 1864, 1890, and 1922 without producing global depressions, and the great recessions of 1873 and 1893 spread worldwide without needing the help of any tariff increases.

He is entirely correct. Those who have studied the depression agree. Christina Romer, now Chair of President Obama's Council of Economic advisors, summarized their consensus in her Encyclopedia Britanica entry about the Great Depression:

Scholars now believe that these [protectionist] policies may have reduced trade somewhat, but were not a significant cause of the Depression in the large industrial producers.

Moreover, when evaluating the effects of Smoot-Hawley, it is important to recognize that the United States of the 1930s was the exporting powerhouse that China is today. It is never a good idea for a net exporter to induce a trade war. But now we have a trade deficit. If a trade war were to reduce that deficit, it would increase American incomes and demand for domestically produced goods and services.

We have been advocating accross-the-board tariffs on China, proportional to our trade deficit, in order to get the Chinese government to stop excluding American products from China's markets. Tariffs like that against mercantilist countries would actually increase American exports. There is no reason why we should let mercantilist countries intentionally run trade surpluses with us.

We are now dealing with mercantilist countries whose governments use tariffs, non-tariff barriers, and currency manipulations to keep out our goods and services so that they run trade surpluses with us. If we design our tariffs so that they are proportional to those bilateral trade deficits, then we force the mercantilist countries to take down their barriers to our goods.

In other words, Smoot-Hawley may have reduced U.S. exports, but properly designed tariffs today, would increase our exports!

You can look for a review of Ian Fletcher's book in a few weeks on this website!

Your Name:

Post a Comment:




  • Richmans' Blog    RSS
  • Our New Book - Balanced Trade
  • Buy Trading Away Our Future
  • Read Trading Away Our Future
  • Richmans' Commentaries
  • ITA Working Papers
  • ITA on Facebook
  • Contact Us

    Archive
    Dec 2017
    Nov 2017
    Oct 2017
    Sep 2017
    Aug 2017
    Jul 2017
    Jun 2017
    May 2017
    Apr 2017
    Mar 2017
    Feb 2017
    Jan 2017
    Dec 2016
    Nov 2016
    Oct 2016
    Sep 2016
    Aug 2016
    Jul 2016
    Jun 2016
    May 2016
    Apr 2016
    Mar 2016
    Feb 2016
    Jan 2016
    Dec 2015
    Nov 2015
    Oct 2015
    Sep 2015
    Aug 2015
    Jul 2015
    Jun 2015
    May 2015
    Apr 2015
    Mar 2015
    Feb 2015
    Jan 2015
    Dec 2014
    Nov 2014
    Oct 2014
    Sep 2014
    Aug 2014
    Jul 2014
    Jun 2014
    May 2014
    Apr 2014
    Mar 2014
    Feb 2014
    Jan 2014
    Dec 2013
    Nov 2013
    Oct 2013
    Sep 2013
    Aug 2013
    Jul 2013
    Jun 2013
    May 2013
    Apr 2013
    Mar 2013
    Feb 2013
    Jan 2013
    Dec 2012
    Nov 2012
    Oct 2012
    Sep 2012
    Aug 2012
    Jul 2012
    Jun 2012
    May 2012
    Apr 2012
    Mar 2012
    Feb 2012
    Jan 2012
    Dec 2011
    November 2011
    October 2011
    September 2011
    August 2011
    July 2011
    June 2011
    May 2011
    April 2011
    March 2011
    February 2011
    January 2011
    December 2010
    November 2010
    October 2010
    September 2010
    August 2010
    July 2010
    June 2010
    May 2010
    April 2010

    March 2010
    February 2010
    January 2010

    Categories:
    Book Reviews
    Capital Gains Taxation
    Corporate Income Tax
    Consumption Taxes
    Economy - Long Term
    Economy - Short Term
    Environmental Regulation
    Real Estate Taxation
    Trade

    Miscellaneous

    Outside Links:

  • American Economic Alert
  • American Jobs Alliance
  • Angry Bear Blog
  • Economy in Crisis
  • Econbrowser
  • Emmanuel Goldstein's Blog
  • Levy Economics Institute
  • McKeever Institute
  • Michael Pettis Blog
  • Naked Capitalism
  • Natural Born Conservative
  • Science & Public Policy Inst.
  • TradeReform.org
  • Votersway Blog
  • Watt's Up With That


    Wikipedia:

  • [An] extensive argument for balanced trade, and a program to achieve balanced trade is presented in Trading Away Our Future, by Raymond Richman, Howard Richman and Jesse Richman. “A minimum standard for ensuring that trade does benefit all is that trade should be relatively in balance.” [Balanced Trade entry]

    Journal of Economic Literature:

  • [Trading Away Our Future] Examines the costs and benefits of U.S. trade and tax policies. Discusses why trade deficits matter; root of the trade deficit; the “ostrich” and “eagles” attitudes; how to balance trade; taxation of capital gains; the real estate tax; the corporate income tax; solving the low savings problem; how to protect one’s assets; and a program for a strong America....

    Atlantic Economic Journal:

  • In Trading Away Our Future   Richman ... advocates the immediate adoption of a set of public policy proposal designed to reduce the trade deficit and increase domestic savings.... the set of public policy proposals is a wake-up call... [February 17, 2009 review by T.H. Cate]