Tariff Policy




Thomas W. Zeiler

The tariff has been a central issue throughout American history. Its importance evolved over the decades, involving politics, economics, diplomacy, and ideology. Long a source of national revenue, the tariff (or duty or customs)—a tax levied on goods imported into the United States—was critical to the domestic economy and at the center of debates over government intervention in the marketplace. Tariff policy was also embedded in the diplomacy of the United States from its birth. From independence to globalization, tariff policy indicated the direction of U.S. foreign policy toward a particular nation or bloc of countries. It could be used as a defensive tool, a coercive weapon, or as a facilitator of cooperation and unity.

Because one of the top concerns of the United States has been the preservation and expansion of commerce, debates over the nature and uses of tariff policy were considerations in economic diplomacy, which itself undergirded political, military, and ideological aspects of American foreign affairs. Yet a constant theme underlay tariff policy, whatever its target. The United States always pushed for trade liberalization, a tariff policy designed to lower duty rates moderately while protecting certain producers (as opposed to free trade, which aimed to remove all barriers to trade). This was carried out on behalf of the country's economic and political self-interests, but increasingly, through the decades, as a means to instill in the world America's capitalist, open-door ideology as well as to enhance global stability. Tariff policy served diplomacy.

It is evident that the use of tariff policy changed during the course of American history. Until the Civil War, tariffs defended the United States from European imperialism and protected infant industries. After 1865 until World War I, a transition occurred in which policymakers tied the tariff closer to expansionist, big-power diplomacy, although a protectionist Congress restrained these efforts. During the interwar period, the more assertive brand of protectionism had its last gasp, as the Great Depression brought attempts at freer trade to a halt. During World War II and the Cold War, the United States became the global leader of trade liberalization. Although protectionism did not disappear, a freer trade policy united the Western alliance against communism. Successive administrations promoted low tariffs to boost the prosperity, and hence political stability and loyalty, of allies. By the 1970s, tariff policy had dwindled in importance as duties themselves fell to negligible levels and nontariff barriers became more significant. Over the course of U.S. history, therefore, the role of tariff policy in the diplomatic arena progressively changed from being a tool of national survival to one of international integration.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bauer, Raymond A., Ithiel De Sola Pool, and Lewis Anthony Dexter. American Business and Public Policy: The Politics of Foreign Trade. 2d ed. Chicago, 1972. Classic political science study testing pluralist theory, with a focus on the 1950s.

Becker, William A., and Samuel F. Wells, Jr., eds. Economics and World Power: An Assessment of American Diplomacy Since 1789. New York, 1984. Excellent survey of all economic diplomacy, including tariffs.

Butler, Michael A. Cautious Visionary: Cordell Hull and Trade Reform, 1933–1937. Kent, Ohio, 1998.

Capie, Forrest. Tariffs and Growth: Some Insights from the World Economy, 1850–1940. New York, 1994. An economist weighs in on the side of freer trade.

Culbertson, William S. Reciprocity: A NationalPolicy for Foreign Trade. New York, 1937. A government official champions the RTAA.

Dobson, John M. Two Centuries of Tariffs. Washington, D.C., 1976.

Eckes, Alfred E., Jr. Opening America's Market: U.S. Foreign Trade Policy Since 1776. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1995. Emerging classic that criticizes State Department liberal trade policy as a digression from traditional protectionism.

Eichengreen, Barry. "Did International Economic Forces Cause the Great Depression?" Contemporary Policy Issues 6 (April 1988): 90–113.

Gardner, Richard N. Sterling-Dollar Diplomacy:The Origins and Prospects of Our International Economic Order. 2d ed. New York, 1969.

Hody, Cynthia A. The Politics of Trade: AmericanPolitical Development and Foreign Economic Policy. Hanover, N.H., 1996. Examining tariff policy from the early 1900s onward, this political scientist finds that policymakers usually lagged behind dynamic economic change.

Hull, Cordell. The Memoirs of Cordell Hull. New York, 1948.

Jones, Joseph M., Jr. Tariff Retaliation. Philadelphia, 1934. A proponent of liberal trade who takes aim at protectionism.

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Lake, David A. Power, Protection, and Free Trade:International Sources of U.S. Commercial Strategy, 1887–1939. Ithaca, N.Y., 1988. Argues that tariff policy arose from international sources rather than conflict among domestic groups.

Merrill, Milton R. Reed Smoot: Apostle in Politics. Logan, Utah, 1990.

Pastor, Robert A. Congress and the Politics of U.S. Foreign Economic Policy, 1929–1976. Berkeley, Calif., 1980. A useful analysis of tariff policymaking and its impact.

Rhodes, Carolyn. Reciprocity, U.S. Trade Policy, and the GATT Regime. Ithaca, N.Y., 1993.

Rowland, Benjamin M. Commercial Conflict and Foreign Policy: A Study in Anglo-American Relations, 1932–1938. New York, 1987.

Schattschneider, Elmer E. Politics, Pressures, and the Tariff. New York, 1935. Classic study of Smoot-Hawley logrolling.

Setser, Vernon G. The Commercial Reciprocity Policy of the United States, 1774–1829. Philadelphia, 1937.

Stanwood, Edward. American Tariff Controversies in the Nineteenth Century. New York, 1903.

Steward, Dick. Trade and Hemisphere: The GoodNeighbor Policy and Reciprocal Trade. Columbia, Mo., 1975.

Strackbein, O. R. American Enterprise and Foreign Trade. Washington, D.C., 1965. Protectionist tract by a lobbyist.

Tarbell, Ida M. The Tariff in Our Times. New York, 1911. A Progressive-era crusader against protectionism.

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Tate, Merze. Hawaii: Reciprocity or Annexation. New Haven, Conn., 1965.

Taussig, Frank W., ed. Tariff History of the United States. 8th ed. New York, 1931.

Terrill, Tom E. The Tariff, Politics, and American Foreign Policy, 1874–1901. Westport, Conn., 1973.

Wolman, Paul. Most Favored Nation: The Republican Revisionists and U.S. Tariff Policy, 1897–1912. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1992.

Younger, Edward A. John A. Kasson: Politics and Diplomacy from Lincoln to McKinley. Iowa City, Iowa, 1955.

Zeiler, Thomas W. American Trade and Power in the 1960s. New York, 1992. Explores side agreements common in the Cold War to preserve liberal trade.

——. Free Trade, Free World: The Advent ofGATT. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1999.

See also Congressional Power ; Economic Policy and Theory ; Globalization ; Most-Favored-Nation Principle ; Reciprocity .

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