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Peddling Protectionism:
Smoot-Hawley and the Great Depression
Douglas A. Irwin

Hardcover | 2011 | $37.50 | £31.95 | ISBN: 9780691150321
256 pp. | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | 22 halftones. 10 line illus. 9 tables. 1 map.
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The Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1930, which raised U.S. duties on hundreds of imported goods to record levels, is America's most infamous trade law. It is often associated with--and sometimes blamed for--the onset of the Great Depression, the collapse of world trade, and the global spread of protectionism in the 1930s. Even today, the ghosts of congressmen Reed Smoot and Willis Hawley haunt anyone arguing for higher trade barriers; almost single-handedly, they made protectionism an insult rather than a compliment. In Peddling Protectionism, Douglas Irwin provides the first comprehensive history of the causes and effects of this notorious measure, explaining why it largely deserves its reputation for combining bad politics and bad economics and harming the U.S. and world economies during the Depression.

In four brief, clear chapters, Irwin presents an authoritative account of the politics behind Smoot-Hawley, its economic consequences, the foreign reaction it provoked, and its aftermath and legacy. Starting as a Republican ploy to win the farm vote in the 1928 election by increasing duties on agricultural imports, the tariff quickly grew into a logrolling, pork barrel free-for-all in which duties were increased all around, regardless of the interests of consumers and exporters. After Herbert Hoover signed the bill, U.S. imports fell sharply and other countries retaliated by increasing tariffs on American goods, leading U.S. exports to shrivel as well. While Smoot-Hawley was hardly responsible for the Great Depression, Irwin argues, it contributed to a decline in world trade and provoked discrimination against U.S. exports that lasted decades.

Peddling Protectionism tells a fascinating story filled with valuable lessons for trade policy today.


"Peddling Protectionism admirably conveys the context of the events its describes, surveying America's domestic politics in the late 1920s and providing a vivid account of the foreign retaliation that the tariff called forth. Here is a model of economic tract. Lavishly illustrated with political cartoons, it contains but one algebraic equation, and that probably unavoidable."--James Grant, Wall Street Journal

"In his new book, Douglas A. Irwin tells the fascinating story of how Congress stubbornly passed a bill that, as opponents noted at the time, was truly doomed to fail."--Roger Lowenstein, New Republic's The Book

"[Irwin's] account of how the act came about is at once a thorough study and a breezy read. The often overblown rhetoric that Smoot-Hawley has inspired, seemingly from the start, also means that the book is often surprisingly amusing. . . . Mr. Irwin's description of how an attempt to prop up America's agricultural sector metastasised into a law that raised nearly 1,000 import tariffs, mostly on manufacturing products, is fascinating."--Economist

"Peddling Protectionism, by the economist and historian Douglas Irwin, is a vivid, anecdotal, judicious telling of timeless story: what happens when cocksure politicians fall into the grip of a really bad economic idea."--Christopher Caldwell, Financial Times

"In Peddling Protectionism, a short, clear and graceful book, in which maps, photographs and cartoons complement the handful of tables and graphs, Irwin makes a surprisingly lively story of the tradition of tariff revisions in the United States, the domestic politics that produced the Smoot-Hawley statute, in particular the various retaliatory measures that ensued. . . . [I]f only economists could write more books like it about other controversies!"--David Warsh, Economic Principals

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Table of Contents:

Introduction 1
Chapter 1: Domestic Politics 11
Chapter 2: Economic Consequences 101
Chapter 3: Foreign Retaliation 144
Chapter 4: Aftermath and Legacy 184
Appendix: The Economists’ Statement against the Smoot-Hawley Tariff 222
Acknowledgments 227
References 229
Index 239

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