The Political Power of Economic Ideas: Protectionism in Turn of the Century America

Peter H. Bent


One of the main economic debates taking place in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century America was between supporters of protectionism and advocates of free-trade policies. Protectionists won this debate, as the 1897 Dingley Tariff raised tariff rates to record highs. An analysis of this outcome highlights the overlapping interests of Republican politicians and business groups. Both of these groups endorsed particular economic arguments in favour of protectionism. Contemporary studies by academic economists informed the debates surrounding protectionist policies at this time, and also analysed the impacts of these policies. Evidence from politicians, business owners, and economists provides a broad view of who favoured protectionist policies in turn-of-the-century America. This analysis also focuses on how the impacts of these policies were studied and presented in contemporary academic and public discourse.

Published on 28th September, 2015, in Economic Thought Vol 4, No 2, 2015