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Shlaes: Putting Protectionism in Historical Context

Interviewee: Amity Shlaes
Interviewer: Lee Hudson Teslik
November 14, 2007

Amity Shlaes, CFR’s senior fellow for economic history, says that despite a recent spate of protectionist rhetoric, current U.S. tariff rates don’t come close to those seen throughout much of American history. Shlaes makes specific note of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, which emerged out of a trade war with Europe, raised tariffs on a wide range of imports, and exacerbated the Great Depression. Despite the fact that current tariff rates are much lower than they have been historically, Shlaes remains cautious about the risk of regression and says there is a “historylessness to the current debate.” She explains that tougher import regulations would result in higher prices on consumer goods.

For more analysis of the Smoot-Hawley era, see Shlaes’ new book, a history of the Great Depression.

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