Tariff Incidence in America's Gilded Age
36 Pages Posted: 20 Jul 2006 Last revised: 26 Sep 2010
Date Written: April 2006
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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