Republican Tariffs vs. Free Trade


Writing in today's Wall Street Journal, historian James Grant reviews the new book Peddling Protectionism: Smoot Hawley and the Great Depression, which looks back on the days when the Republican Party was openly hostile to free trade:

As every schoolboy used to know, the tariff was the workhorse of the U.S. Treasury before the 20th-century income tax. But it did more than finance the government. It also fattened the profits of the manufacturers who succeeded in lobbying for tariff rates high enough to keep out foreign competition.

Interestingly, [author Douglas] Irwin reminds us, Smoot-Hawley was no Depression measure. Enacted in June 1930, it was conceived as a political gambit intended to win struggling farmers over to the Republican Party in the elections of 1928. While the GOP wanted no part of overtly subsidizing agricultural prices, it was only too happy to legislate a rise in the duties on imported farm products (of which there were actually precious few), as well as a broad-based upward revision in tariffs on manufactured goods. "Equality for agriculture" was the unpersuasive slogan.

Most of us, though not Mr. Irwin, forget that the Republican Party was once the citadel of protectionism. High tariffs, the party of Lincoln had claimed from its founding, were the basis of American prosperity. "Free trade" was then the political epithet that "protectionist" has now become.

Read the whole thing here.