[Reprinted with permission from Alan Reynolds, “What Do We Know about the Great Crash?” National Review, November 9, 1979]
Many scholars have long agreed that the Smoot-Hawley tariff had disastrous economic effects, but most of them have felt that it could not have caused the stock market collapse of October 1929, since the tariff was not signed into law until the following June. Today we know that market participants do not wait for a major law to pass, but instead try to anticipate whether or not it will pass and what its effects will be.
Consider the following sequence of events:
The Smoot-Hawley tariff passes the House on May 28, 1929. Stock prices in New York (1926=100) drop from 196 in March to 191 in June. On June 19, Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee meet to rewrite the bill. Hoping for improvement, the market rallies, but industrial production ( 1967 = 100) peaks in July, and dips very slightly through September. Stocks rise to 216 by September, hitting their peak on the third of the month. The full Senate Finance Committee goes to work on the tariff the following day, moving it to the Senate floor later in the month.
On October 21, the Senate rejects, 64 to 10, a move to limit tariff increases to agriculture. “A weakening of the Democratic-Progressive Coalition was evidenced on October 23,” notes the Commercial and Financial Chronicle. In this first test vote, 16 members of the anti-tariff coalition switch sides and vote to double the tariff on calcium carbide from Canada. Stocks collapse in the last hour of trading; the following morning is christened Black Thursday. On October 28, a delegation of senators appeals to President Hoover to help push a tariff bill through quickly (which he does on the 31st). The Chronicle headlines news about broker loans on the same day: “Recall of Foreign Money Grows Heavier-All Europe Withdrawing Capital.” The following day is stalemate. Stocks begin to rally after November 14, rising steadily from 145 in November to 171 in April. Industrial production stops falling and hovers around the December level through March.