Trade Policy and America's Standard of Living: A Historical Perspective
J. Bradford De Long
THE UNITED STATES has not always been a free trade-loving country. Since World War II the establishment core of both political parties has had a free (or at least freer)-trade orientation. Relatively broad, bipartisan coalitions have enacted repeated moves toward trade liberalization, supported by broad agreement that the United States has more to gain than to lose from closer integration into an international division of labor.
Before World War II things were different. For a century and a half after the founding of the United States, free trade tended to be the exception, and protectionism the rule. Tariff rates did oscillate. They went up with the Smoot-Hawley tariff at the beginning of the Great Depression, and up to raise revenues to fight the Civil War; they went down in the 1830s as
This chapter has been partially supported by an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation research fellowship. Work on it was begun while I was deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury for economic policy. I want to thank Bill Bareeda, Susan Collins, Barry Eichengreen, Jeffrey Frankel, Richard Freeman, Louis Johnston, Ian McLean, Marty Olney, Sherman Robinson, Christina Romer, David Romer, Paul Romer, Andrei Shleifer, Larry Summers, Richard Sutch, Peter Temin, Robert Waldmann, and David Walters for helpful discussions. The views set forward here are solely my own.