On this day in 1930 the Smoot-Hawley Tariff became law. I swear when I was in eighth grade it was the Hawley-Smoot Tariff. Apparently the forces of Smoot have ensured that he takes pride of place. Or maybe it’s the forces of Hawley who have ensured that Smoot takes the brunt of blame. Because the law is virtually synonymous with a Bad Thing. Remember this Golden Television Moment?
There’s Gore (yes, younger and thinner; so was I then) with his portrait of Smoot and Hawley, explaining Tariffs are Bad.
Whether Tariffs are Bad or not, there is a general consensus that the Smoot-Hawley Tariff was bad. It prevented other countries from trading to the U.S. at a time when that might have kept them out of depression, and it probably wouldn’t have hurt the U.S. either. Instead the renewed American commitment to protectionism prompted increases in other countries’ tariffs, and partly because of these policies, world trade did this:
Sometimes folks will point out that because trade accounted for such a small share of the U.S. economy, this couldn’t have mattered. Maybe so, but it mattered to other countries. And the 1930s taught us that when other countries suffer it can become our problem.
If you want to know how a law generally regarded as “asinine” got passed, you might look at Barry Eichengreen’s paper. If you want to know who called it “asinine,” and who predicted this kind of problem eleven years before it occurred, and other exciting stuff about the Great Depression and the New Deal, you know where to look. (Yes, I know you can find out using Google. But really, you should buy the book. Unless it would be a hardship for you. Otherwise, buy it. Please? Pretty please?)