Podcast

Why Economists Hate Tariffs

On the podcast: How the Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930 embroiled the U.S. in a trade war and prolonged the Great Depression.

U.S. President Donald Trump holds up a signed presidential memorandum aimed at what he calls Chinese economic aggression at the White House on March 22. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump holds up a signed presidential memorandum aimed at what he calls Chinese economic aggression at the White House on March 22. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

To many economists, U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariffs against China and other countries are reminiscent of another American trade war—one launched in 1930 that ended badly for everyone involved.

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act introduced duties on about 900 products against Canada, the United Kingdom, and other countries. The United States was already in the throes of the Great Depression; the retaliation made it worse. It took America more than a decade to recover.

On the First Person podcast, we’re re-airing a version of our Aug. 3 interview with Dartmouth University economist Douglas Irwin, who wrote a book about Smoot-Hawley. Irwin talks about tariffs, trade wars, and that iconic scene in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Anyone? Anyone?

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