Best of the Week
Most Popular
1. The Trump Stock Market Trap May Be Triggered - Barry_M_Ferguson
2.Why are Central Banks Buying Gold and Dumping Dollars? - Richard_Mills
3.US China War - Thucydides Trap and gold - Richard_Mills
4.Gold Price Trend Forcast to End September 2019 - Nadeem_Walayat
5.Money Saving Kids Gardening Growing Giant Sunflowers Summer Fun - Anika_Walayat
6.US Dollar Breakdown Begins, Gold Price to Bolt Higher - Jim_Willie_CB
7.INTEL (INTC) Stock Investing to Profit From AI Machine Learning Boom - Nadeem_Walayat
8.Will Google AI Kill Us? Man vs Machine Intelligence - N_Walayat
9.US Prepares for Currency War with China - Richard_Mills
10.Gold Price Epochal Breakout Will Not Be Negated by a Correction - Clive Maund
Last 7 days
This Dividend Aristocrat Is Leading the 5G Revolution - 22nd July 19
What the World Doesn’t Need Now is Lower Interest Rates - 22nd July 19
My Biggest 'Fear' For Silver - 22nd July 19
Reasons to Buy Pre-Owned Luxury Car from a Certified Dealer - 22nd July 19
Stock Market Increasing Technical Weakness - 22nd July 19
What Could The Next Gold Rally Look Like? - 22nd July 19
Stock Markets Setting Up For A Volatility Explosion – Are You Ready? - 22nd July 19
Anatomy of an Impulse Move in Gold and Silver Precious Metals - 22nd July 19
What you Really need to Know about the Stock Market - 22nd July 19
Has Next UK Financial Crisis Just Started? Bank Accounts Being Frozen - 21st July 19
Silver to Continue Lagging Gold, Will Struggle to Overcome $17 - 21st July 19
What’s With all the Weird Weather?  - 21st July 19
Halifax Stopping Customers Withdrawing Funds Online - UK Brexit Banking Crisis Starting? - 21st July 19
US House Prices Trend Forecast 2019 to 2021 - 20th July 19
MICROSOFT Cortana, Azure AI Platform Machine Intelligence Stock Investing Video - 20th July 19
Africa Rising – Population Explosion, Geopolitical and Economic Consquences - 20th July 19
Gold Mining Stocks Q2’19 Results Analysis - 20th July 19
This Is Your Last Chance to Dump Netflix Stock - 19th July 19
Gold and US Stock Mid Term Election and Decade Cycles - 19th July 19
Precious Metals Big Picture, as Silver Gets on its Horse - 19th July 19
This Technology Everyone Laughed Off Is Quietly Changing the World - 19th July 19
Green Tech Stocks To Watch - 19th July 19
Double Top In Transportation and Metals Breakout Are Key Stock Market Topping Signals - 18th July 19
AI Machine Learning PC Custom Build Specs for £2,500 - Scan Computers 3SX - 18th July 19
The Best “Pick-and-Shovel” Play for the Online Grocery Boom - 18th July 19
Is the Stock Market Rally Floating on Thin Air? - 18th July 19
Biotech Stocks With Near Term Catalysts - 18th July 19
SPX Consolidating, GBP and CAD Could be in Focus - 18th July 19
UK House Building and Population Growth Analysis - 17th July 19
Financial Crisis Stocks Bear Market Is Scary Close - 17th July 19
Want to See What's Next for the US Economy? Try This. - 17th July 19
What to do if You Blow the Trading Account - 17th July 19
Bitcoin Is Far Too Risky for Most Investors - 17th July 19
Core Inflation Rises but Fed Is Going to Cut Rates. Will Gold Gain? - 17th July 19
Boost your Trading Results - FREE eBook - 17th July 19
This Needs To Happen Before Silver Really Takes Off - 17th July 19
NASDAQ Should Reach 8031 Before Topping - 17th July 19
US Housing Market Real Terms BUY / SELL Indicator - 16th July 19
Could Trump Really Win the 2020 US Presidential Election? - 16th July 19
Gold Stocks Forming Bullish Consolidation - 16th July 19
Will Fed Easing Turn Out Like 1995 or 2007? - 16th July 19
Red Rock Entertainment Investments: Around the world in a day with Supreme Jets - 16th July 19

Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

Top AI Stocks Investing to Profit from the Machine Intelligence Mega-trend

Protectionism Didn’t Cause the Great Depression

Economics / Global Economy Apr 07, 2010 - 03:31 AM GMT

By: Ian_Fletcher

Economics Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleThe debate over free trade is riddled with myth after myth.  One that keeps resurfacing again and again, no matter how many times it is discredited, is the idea that protectionism caused the Great Depression.  One occasionally even hears that the 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 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, piling 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 only applied to 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.

If Smoot-Hawley had caused a global trade disaster, it would necessarily have been by triggering a sharp decline in American imports of goods subject to the increased tariff.  Did this happen?  The data say no.  In the words of economic historian, former member of the U.S. International Trade Commission, and avowed free trader Prof. Alfred E. Eckes,

Official data show that higher U.S. tariffs had little impact on American imports. From 1929 to 1932, imports of dutiable and duty-free goods fell almost the same percentage, suggesting that higher tariffs had little impact on most trading partners… The sharpest drop in exports involved commodity-exporting countries, including some like Brazil, largely unaffected by higher U.S. tariffs.

World trade did indeed decline, but this was due to the Depression itself, not higher American tariffs.  This is no surprise, as declines in the values of the currencies of America’s major trading partners wiped away much of the effect of the tariff anyway.

In light of the facts noted above, it is, in fact, true that just about every serious economist or economic historian—as opposed to the ideologues of the editorial pages or the think tanks—who has examined this question in detail has come to the same conclusion. This is not a liberal vs. conservative issue, either: famous economists who have denied that Smoot-Hawley caused the Depression range from Milton Friedman on the right to Paul Krugman on the left. 

The same fact can be ascertained by looking at Smoot-Hawley’s impact on the world economy at large. As the economic historian (and free trader) William Bernstein puts it in his book A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World,

Between 1929 and 1932, real GDP fell 17 percent worldwide, and by 26 percent in the United States, but most economic historians now believe that only a miniscule part of that huge loss of both world GDP and the United States' GDP can be ascribed to the tariff wars. ..  At the time of Smoot-Hawley's passage, trade volume accounted for only about 9 percent of world economic output.  Had all international trade been eliminated, and had no domestic use for the previously exported goods been found, world GDP would have fallen by the same amount--9 percent. Between 1930 and 1933, worldwide trade volume fell off by one-third to one-half. Depending on how the falloff is measured, this computes to 3 to 5 percent of world GDP, and these losses were partially made up by more expensive domestic goods.  Thus, the damage done could not possibly have exceeded 1 or 2 percent of world GDP--nowhere near the 17 percent falloff seen during the Great Depression... The inescapable conclusion: contrary to public perception, Smoot-Hawley did not cause, or even significantly deepen, the Great Depression.

The oft-bandied idea that Smoot-Hawley started a global trade war of endless cycles of tit-for-tat retaliation is also mythical. According to the official State Department report on this very question in 1931:

With the exception of discriminations in France, the extent of discrimination against American commerce is very slight...By far the largest number of countries do not discriminate against the commerce of the United States in any way.

That is to say, foreign nations did indeed raise their tariffs after the passage of Smoot, but this was a broad-brush response to the Depression itself, aimed at all other foreign nations without distinction, not a retaliation against the U.S. for its own tariff.  The doom-loop of spiraling tit-for-tat retaliation between trading partners that paralyses free traders with fear today simply did not happen.

The myth of Smoot-Hawley continues to poison U.S. policymaking even today, as it renders the U.S. government fearful of retaliating against problems like Chinese currency manipulation.  But hopefully, the present controversy over free trade will eventually provoke enough public debate that this hoary myth can finally be put to bed forever.  For a more detailed discussion of these issues, please see Chapter Six of my book Free Trade Doesn’t Work: What Should Replace It and Why.

Ian Fletcher is the author of the new book Free Trade Doesn’t Work: What Should Replace It and Why (USBIC, $24.95)  He is an Adjunct Fellow at the San Francisco office of the U.S. Business and Industry Council, a Washington think tank founded in 1933.  He was previously an economist in private practice, mostly serving hedge funds and private equity firms. He may be contacted at ian.fletcher@usbic.net.

© 2010 Copyright  Ian Fletcher - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.


© 2005-2019 http://www.MarketOracle.co.uk - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in

6 Critical Money Making Rules