Changes in U.S. Tariffs: Prices or Policies?

30 Pages Posted: 24 Jan 1997 Last revised: 28 Jun 2010

See all articles by Douglas A. Irwin

Douglas A. Irwin

Dartmouth College - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: July 1996


In the century after the Civil War, roughly two-thirds of U.S. dutiable imports were subject to specific duties whose ad valorem equivalent was inversely related to the price level. This paper finds that import price fluctuations easily dominate commercial policies (changes in rates of import duty) in bringing about changes in the average U.S. tariff from 1865-1973. About three-quarters of the post-Smoot Hawley decline in U.S. tariffs, for example, can be attributed to higher import prices, the remainder to negotiated reductions in tariff rates.

Suggested Citation

Irwin, Douglas A., Changes in U.S. Tariffs: Prices or Policies? (July 1996). NBER Working Paper No. w5665. Available at SSRN:

Douglas A. Irwin (Contact Author)

Dartmouth College - Department of Economics ( email )

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