Saturday 7 April 2018

anyone? anyone?

In what’s shaping up to be a timely history lesson, NPR’s Planet Money presents an extensive study of the factors leading to the passage, the immediate consequences and legacy of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 made into a pop-culture reference by the droning line of inquiry of Ben Stein playing a high school economics teacher in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (previously). Economists, who to a man believed the schedule of tariffs to be a disastrous idea, concede that its enactment did not cause the Great Depression as those wheels were already in motion, but agree that it exacerbated an already bad situation and prolonged it, turning a trade war of retaliatory tariffs on imports and exports into an unqualified war.
With the gradual introduction of electricity and the automobile throughout the 1920s, globally but particularly in the United States, farmers suddenly found a significant portion of land freed up that was formerly reserved for growing feed for horses and other beasts of burden, which led to over-production and caused the government to intervene to subsidise prices lest the price of commodities becomes too depressed and there’s less incentive for domestic production. Once the government signalled its willingness to protect a batch of staple goods of strategic importance to the US, things escalated rather quickly with no one wanting to miss out on this opportunity and some twenty thousand goods securing an embargo that held foreign competition at bay. Though international response was immediate, punishing and predictable with countries raising duties on American exports astronomically, not buying US products and turning towards self-sufficiency, the practise carried on for two years until congress reversed the tariffs and conceding that it such an unnecessary economic blunder, they abdicated their role in negotiating trade deals and put that power solely in the prerogative of the executive branch.