Economic Planning and the Tariff: An Essay on Social Philosophy

By James Gerald Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
CONTEMPORARY FANTASIES OF THE ECONOMIC NATIONALISTS

FOR some time after the passage of the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act in 1930, the protectionist statesmen were exceedingly busy explaining; and then after the election of President Roosevelt in 1932 they became almost sepulchrally silent, with only now and then a gasp. The promise of the "full dinner pail" had left a strange taste in the mouths of millions of hungry people. Instead of filling the pail this time, the tariff unaccountably half-emptied it, in quite a dramatic and convincing fashion. But at first the protectionists were clever fellows-- and they said that they shuddered to think what would have happened to the dinner pail if they had not passed the Hawley- Smoot Tariff Act. The dinner pail was only half empty, but if it were not for the tariff--well, they shuddered!

The protectionist statesmen also deserved high credit for the adroit manner in which they turned upon their attackers. It was argued that the tariff keeps us out of international entanglements, and that national self-sufficiency is requisite for world peace. Their argument that the tariff fills the worker's dinner pail was abandoned, at least temporarily, and they appealed to the great ideals of the movement for world peace. It may be clever political strategy to play upon popular feeling. It may indicate an adept analysis of human psychology, but it shows a naive disregard of the facts to argue either that the United States needs the tariffs to maintain her self-sufficiency or that the tariff can keep her out of international entanglements.

In the first place, quite regardless of the tariff, this country has a natural economic self-sufficiency to an extent possible in practically no other country in the world. Without the tariff, we would still have an enormous diversification of industry. There are thousands of manufactured commodities made today in this country, with our cheap raw materials and efficient labor and mass-production methods, at a per unit cost which could not be remotely approached by foreign competition. The only difference, without the tariff, would be that the benefits of our low

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