My Mercatus Center colleague Dan Griswold reviews Douglas Irwin’s magnificent new volume, Clashing Over Commerce . Here’s a slice from Dan’s review:
The Civil War upended U.S. trade policy, as it did so much else, and ushered in a second era marked by high tariffs to protect certain U.S. industries. One sad fact that comes through clearly from Irwin’s meticulous scholarship is that the protectionism of this era did a lot more to build the lobbyist swamp than it did to build the U.S. economy. Every trade bill that moved through Congress invited a feeding frenzy of special interests seeking protection. Hundreds of pages of the Congressional Record were filled with speeches justifying higher tariffs on sugar, wool, glass, pig iron, and hundreds of other domestically made products.
What did all this high-tariff lobbying and legislating do for the U.S. economy? Not much. Putting on his economist hat, Irwin concludes that the impact of the protective tariffs was modestly negative.