Tariffs were reduced in 1833 and the Corn Law was repealed in 1846, which amounted to free trade in food. (The Corn Laws were passed in 1815 to restrict wheat imports and guarantee British farmers' incomes ).It devastated Britain’s old rural economy and the aristocracy that had lived off its agricultural rents. Tariffs on many manufactured goods have also been abolished (Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes, Bairoch). British elites expected that thanks to free trade their lead in shipping, technology, scale economies and financial infrastructure to be self-reinforcing and thus last indefinitely. Britain practiced free trade unilaterally in the vain hope of imitation, but the United States emerged from the Civil War even more explicitly protectionist than before, Germany under Bismarck turned in this direction in 1879, and the rest of Europe followed. During the 1880s and 1890s, tariffs went up in Sweden, Italy, France, Austria-Hungary and Spain .
Britain’s economy still grew, but inexorably lagged: from 1870 to 1913, industrial production rose an average of 4.7 percent per year in the U.S., 4.1 percent in Germany, but only 2.1 percent in Britain. It was surpassed economically by the U.S. only around 1880 .Britain’s lead in textiles and steelheld eroded as other nations caught up. Britain then fell behind as new industries, using more advanced technology, emerged after 1870 in states that still practiced protectionism .
Fundamentally, the country believed that free trade was optimal as a permanent policy and was satisfied with laissez faire absence of industrial policy . But contrary to British belief, free trade did not improve the economic situation and increased competition from foreign production eventually devastated Britain's old rural economy. But despite the mounting failure of its great strategic gamble, Britain was so committed to free trade that it agreed to pay the price .
The American Revolution was, to some extent, a rebellion against being forced to play a lesser role in the emerging Atlantic economy. This explains why, after independence, the Tariff Act was the second bill of the Republic signed by President George Washington allowing Congress to impose a fixed tariff of 5% on all imports, with a few exceptions .
Alexander Hamilton feared that Britain's policy towards the colonies would condemn the United States to be only producers of agricultural products and raw materials. Washington and Hamilton believed that political independence was predicated upon economic independence. Increasing the domestic supply of manufactured goods, particularly war materials, was seen as an issue of national security. Hamilton called in the Report on Manufactures for customs barriers to allow American industrial development and to help protect infant industries, including bounties (subsidies) derived in part from those tariffs . Hamilton explained that despite an initial “increase of price” caused by regulations that control foreign competition, once a “domestic manufacture has attained to perfection… it invariably becomes cheaper”.
According to Michael Lind, protectionism was America's de facto policy from the passage of the Tariff of 1816 to World War II, "switching to free trade only in 1945" Michael Lind, "Free Trade Fallacy",New America Foundation, January 1, 2003.. It has been argued that one of the underlying motivations for the American Revolution itself was a desire to industrialize, and reverse the trade deficit with Britain, which had grown by a factor of ten in the space of a few decades, from £67,000 (1721–30) to £739,000 (1761–70) .
In the 19th century, statesmen such as Senator Henry Clay continued Hamilton's themes within the Whig Party under the name "American System (Abraham Lincoln and the Tariff, R. Luthin, 1944)".
The American Civil War (1861-1865) was fought over the issue of tariffs as well as slavery. At the time of independence, the agrarian interests of the South were opposed to any protection, while the manufacturing interests of the North wanted to maintain it. The fledgling Republican Party led by Abraham Lincoln, who called himself a "Henry Clay tariff Whig", strongly opposed free trade, and implemented a 44-percent tariff during the Civil War—in part to pay for railroad subsidies and for the war effort, and to protect favored industries.. In 1847, he declared: "Give us a protective tariff, and we shall have the greatest nation on earth".
Milton Friedman held the opinion that the Smoot–Hawley tariff of 1930 did not cause the Great Depression, instead he blamed the lack of sufficient action on the part of the Federal Reserve. Douglas A. Irwin wrote: "most economists, both liberal and conservative, doubt that Smoot–Hawley played much of a role in the subsequent contraction ".
Peter Temin, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explained that a tariff is an expansionary policy, like a devaluation as it diverts demand from foreign to home producers. He noted that exports were 7 percent of GNP in 1929, they fell by 1.5 percent of 1929 GNP in the next two years and the fall was offset by the increase in domestic demand from tariff. He concluded that contrary the popular argument, contractionary effect of the tariff was small.
William Bernstein wrote: "Between 1929 and 1932, real GDP fell 17 percent worldwide, and by 26 percent in the United States, but most economic historians now believe that only a miniscule part of that huge loss of both world GDP and the United States’ GDP can be ascribed to the tariff wars. .. At the time of Smoot-Hawley’s passage, trade volume accounted for only about 9 percent of world economic output. Had all international trade been eliminated, and had no domestic use for the previously exported goods been found, world GDP would have fallen by the same amount — 9 percent. Between 1930 and 1933, worldwide trade volume fell off by one-third to one-half. Depending on how the falloff is measured, this computes to 3 to 5 percent of world GDP, and these losses were partially made up by more expensive domestic goods. Thus, the damage done could not possibly have exceeded 1 or 2 percent of world GDP — nowhere near the 17 percent falloff seen during the Great Depression... The inescapable conclusion: contrary to public perception, Smoot-Hawley did not cause, or even significantly deepen, the Great Depression"( A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World)
Nobel laureate Maurice Allais argued that: First, most of the trade contraction occurred between January 1930 and July 1932, before most protectionist measures were introduced, except for the limited measures applied by the United States in the summer of 1930. It was therefore the collapse of international liquidity that caused the contraction of trade8, not customs tariffs. Second, domestic output in the major industrialized countries fell faster than international trade contracted, so it was not the contraction in foreign trade that caused the depression, but rather the reverse (it was the fall in domestic demand in the countries that caused the contraction in foreign trade). This indicates that it is the domestic growth of countries that generate foreign trade, not the reverse. So protecting domestic production through tariffs is more important than safeguarding foreign trade. Maurice Allais concludes that higher trade barriers were a means of protecting domestic demand from external shocks, deflation, and deregulation of competition in the global labour market.
Introduction of Harmonized System code in 1990s has largely replaced the Standard International Trade Classification (SITC), though SITC remains in use for statistical purposes. In drawing up the national tariff, the revenue departments often specifies the rate of customs duty with reference to the HS code of the product. In some countries and customs unions, 6-digit HS codes are locally extended to 8 digits or 10 digits for further tariff discrimination: for example the European Union uses its 8-digit CN (Combined Nomenclature) and 10-digit .
Companies use ERP software to calculate duties automatically to, on one hand, avoid error-prone manual work on duty regulations and formulas and on the other hand, manage and analyze the historically paid duties. Moreover, ERP software offers an option for customs warehouse, introduced to save duty and VAT payments. In addition, the duty deferment and suspension is also taken into consideration.
When incorporating free international trade into the model we use a supply curve denoted as (diagram 1) or (diagram 2). This curve represents the assumption that the international supply of the good or service is perfectly elastic and that the world can produce at a near infinite quantity of the good. Before the tariff, there is a quantity demanded of Qc1 (diagram 1) or D (diagram 2). The difference between quantity demanded and quantity supplied (between D and S on diagram 2, respectively) was filled by importing from abroad. This is shown on diagram 1 as Quantity of Imports (without tariff). After the imposition of a tariff, domestic price rises, but foreign export prices fall due to the difference in tax incidence on the consumers (at home) and producers (abroad).
The new price level at Home is Ptariff or Pt, which is higher than the world price. More of the good is now produced at Home – it now makes Qs2 (diagram 1) or S* (diagram 2) of the good. Due to the higher price, only Qc2 or D* of the good is demanded by Home. The difference between the quantity supplied and the quantity demanded is still filled by importing from abroad. However, the imposition of the tariff reduces the quantity of imports from D − S to D* − S* (diagram 2). This is also shown in diagram 1 as Quantity of Imports (with tariff).
Domestic producers enjoy a gain in their surplus. Producer surplus, defined as the difference between what the producers were willing to receive by selling a good and the actual price of the good, expands from the region below Pw to the region below Pt. Therefore, the domestic producers gain an amount shown by the area A.
Domestic consumers face a higher price, reducing their welfare. Consumer surplus is the area between the price line and the demand curve. Therefore, the consumer surplus shrinks from the area above Pw to the area above Pt, i.e. it shrinks by the areas A, B, C and D. This includes the gained producer surplus, the deadweight loss, and the tax revenue.
The government gains from the taxes. It charges an amount Pt − Pt* of tariff for every good imported. Since D* − S* goods are imported, the government gains an area of C and E. However, there is a deadweight loss of the triangles B and D, or in diagram 1, the triangles labeled Societal Loss. Deadweight loss is also called efficiency loss. This cost is incurred because tariffs reduce the incentives for the society to consume and produce.
The net loss to the society due to the tariff would be given by the total costs of the tariff minus its benefits to the society. Therefore, the net welfare loss due to the tariff is equal to:
The political impact of tariffs is judged depending on the political perspective; for example the 2002 United States steel tariff imposed a 30% tariff on a variety of imported steel products for a period of three years and American steel producers supported the tariff.
Tariffs can emerge as a political issue prior to an election. In the leadup to the 2007 Australian Federal election, the Australian Labor Party announced it would undertake a review of Australian car tariffs if elected. The Liberal Party made a similar commitment, while independent candidate Nick Xenophon announced his intention to introduce tariff-based legislation as "a matter of urgency".
Unpopular tariffs are known to have ignited social unrest, for example the 1905 meat riots in Chile that developed in protest against tariffs applied to the Argentine beef. Primeros movimientos sociales chileno (1890–1920). Memoria Chilena.Benjamin S. 1997. Meat and Strength: The Moral Economy of a Chilean Food Riot. Cultural Anthropology, 12, pp. 234–268.
This is related to the infant industry argument.
In contrast, in economic theory tariffs are viewed as a primary element in international trade with the function of the tariff being to influence the flow of trade by lowering or raising the price of targeted goods to create what amounts to an artificial competitive advantage. When tariffs are viewed and used in this fashion, they are addressing the country's and the competitors' respective economic healths in terms of maximizing or minimizing revenue flow rather than in terms of the ability to generate and maintain a competitive advantage which is the source of the revenue. As a result, the impact of the tariffs on the economic health of the country are at best minimal but often are counter-productive.
A program within the US intelligence community, Project Socrates, that was tasked with addressing America's declining economic competitiveness, determined that countries like China and India were using tariffs as an integral element of their respective technology strategies to rapidly build their countries into economic superpowers. However, the US intelligence community tends to have limited inputs into developing US trade policy. It was also determined that the US, in its early years, had also used tariffs as an integral part of what amounted to technology strategies to transform the country into a superpower.