The Institutional Determinants of the Smoot-hawley Tariff

Alan Dye (Barnard College, Columbia University)
Richard Sicotte (University of Vermont)

Abstract: This paper examines the causes of the Smoot-Hawley tariff. A large literature exists that debates whether the tariff law of 1930 was a result of interest-group politics or strict partisanship. We argue that neither explanation offers a satisfactory explanation because each fails to recognize that a multiplicity of decisions and institutions determined, first, how the tariff bill was shaped at each stage of the legislative process, then, why in passage it took the form it took. Econometric analysis shows that interest-group and party politics arguments each have validity to explain some stage of the process, but neither fully captures the process. A satisfactory explanation requires reference to the procedural rules at various stages of the decision-making process. The rules that mattered support the roles of gatekeeping and committee veto, as in Shepsle and Weingast (1987), and party organization as legislative cartel, as in Cox and McCubbins (1993). As we show, it is easy to find a plausible counterfactual in which, holding party membership and interests constant, but allowing different rules, the tariff bill might have taken a different shape at the time it was passed.

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