How Important Was Smoot-Hawley?
By David Henderson
I used to think that the Smoot-Hawley tariff was the fourth most important cause [of the Great Depression]. But Douglas Irwin’s new book, Peddling Protectionism, has convinced me that Smoot-Hawley, though bad, was even less important than I had thought.
Why am I so convinced? Because Irwin, an economics professor at Dartmouth College and one of the world’s leading scholars of international trade, makes a careful, fact-freighted case. He points out that Smoot- Hawley did not raise tariffs to as high a level as is commonly thought. He also shows that international trade, so important to the U.S. economy today, was much less important then. And he shows that evidence presented by the late Jude Wanniski on the stock market’s reaction to Smoot-Hawley is quite weak. The one part of the commonly accepted view of Smoot-Hawley that holds up is the idea that it led to retaliation against U.S. exports by other countries’ governments.
This is from “No Big Deal,” my review of Douglas A. Irwin’s book, Peddling Protectionism: Smoot-Hawley and the Great Depression. It’s in the latest issue of Regulation. Go to this link and scroll down.
What makes Irwin even more credible, besides his strong factual case, is that his career incentive, given that he is one of the leading free trade economists, is to believe in and preach the importance of restrictions on trade such as Smoot-Hawley. Incidentally, he wrote “International Trade Agreements” for The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.