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The Roots of Latin American Protectionism: Looking Before the Great Depression

Coatsworth, John H.; Williamson, Jeffrey G.

This paper uncovers a fact that has not been well appreciated: tariffs in Latin America were far higher than anywhere else in the century before the Great Depression. This is a surprising fact given that this region has been said to have exploited globalization forces better than most during the pre-1914 belle epoque and for which the Great Depression has always been viewed as a critical policy turning point towards protection and de-linking from the world economy. This paper shows that the explanation cannot lie with output gains from protection, since, while such gains were present in Europe and its non-Latin offshoots, they were not present in Latin America. The paper then explores Latin American tariffs as a revenue source, as a protective device for special interests, and as the result of other political economy struggles. We conclude by asking whether the same pro-protection conditions exist today as those which existed more than a century ago.

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Academic Units
Office of the Provost
Series
NBER Working Paper, 8999
Published Here
June 8, 2015