Saturday, November 26, 2016

How much did tariffs drive 19th century U.S. economic growth?

From Marginal Revolution.
"Not so much:
The role of high tariffs in the emergence of the U.S. as a leading industrial nation in the late 19th century is still hotly debated. Despite its symbolic signifi- cance in the arguments of Free Trade, the quantitative implications of the tariffs on key features of the development are still unknown. In this paper I ask: Could the U.S. have grown as it did without the high tariffs imposed on its manufacturing imports in the late 19th century? To see this clearly, my analysis is quantitative and counterfactual in nature, effectively isolating the effects of the tariffs from other important forces. To do this, I construct a three-region general equilibrium model. The model is calibrated to match the key data during this period. Then, I disentangle the effects of the tariffs under two different assumptions. First, I assume that manufacturing productivity is exogenous to the tariffs. Then I assume that there exists learning-by-doing in U.S. manufacturing so that the tariffs positively affect productivity. Contrary to popular beliefs, I find that the effects of high manufacturing tariffs are quantitatively small. Even with learning-by-doing, tariffs only contributes about 4 percent to the growth of the manufacturing output, and a little more than 1 percentage point to its share in world manufacturing from 1870 to 1913. I then ask what the key driving forces for development are. I find that the large increase in labour force is the single most important factor behind the development of the U.S. economy.
That is from a 2013 job market paper by Yeo Jooon Yoon (pdf), emphasis added by me.  See also this earlier Doug Irwin paper, all hat tips go to PseudoErasmus."
Here is the abstract from the Irwin paper: 
"Were high import tariffs somehow related to the strong U.S. economic growth during the late nineteenth century? This paper examines this frequently mentioned but controversial question and investigates the channels by which tariffs could have promoted growth during this period. The paper shows that: (i) late nineteenth century growth hinged more on population expansion and capital accumulation than on productivity growth; (ii) tariffs may have discouraged capital accumulation by raising the price of imported capital goods; (iii) productivity growth was most rapid in non-traded sectors (such as utilities and services) whose performance was not directly related to the tariff."

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