NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Tariff Incidence in America's Gilded Age

Douglas A. Irwin

NBER Working Paper No. 12162
Issued in April 2006
NBER Program(s):   DAE   ITI

In the late nineteenth century, the United States imposed high tariffs to protect domestic manufacturers from foreign competition. This paper examines the magnitude of protection given to import-competing producers and the costs imposed on export-oriented producers by focusing on changes in the domestic prices of traded goods relative to non-traded goods. Because the tariffs tended to increase the prices of non-traded goods, the degree of protection was much less than indicated by nominal rates of protection; the results here suggest that the 30 percent average tariff on imports yielded a 15 percent implicit subsidy to import-competing producers while effectively taxing exporters at a rate of 11 percent. The paper also finds that tariff policy redistributed large amounts of income (about 9 percent of GDP) across groups, although the impact on consumers was only slightly negative because they devoted a sizeable share of their expenditures to exportable goods. These findings may explain why import-competing producers pressed for even greater protection in the face of already high tariffs and why consumers (as voters) did not strongly oppose the policy.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w12162

Published: Irwin, Douglas A., 2007. "Tariff Incidence in America's Gilded Age," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 67(03), pages 582-607, September. citation courtesy of

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