Courtesy Reuters

Our Invisible Tariff

ON March 18 Secretary Morgenthau announced that after a certain date German goods entering the United States would be subject to additional or countervailing duties equal to 25 percent of their value. This action, popularly interpreted as revealing President Roosevelt's disapproval of German aggression in Central Europe, was explained officially as necessary to compensate for German export subsidies. News of this sort is not infrequent nowadays. The President is urged to use his latent tariff powers to dissuade Japan from closing the Open Door in China. Puerto Rican sugar mills protest Secretary Wallace's cut in their import quota allotments. American exporters, suffering under Argentina's discriminatory exchange control, demand relaxation of the sanitary embargo on Argentine meat. American nurserymen ponder the effects on their business of the proposed revision in the Plant Quarantine Act. State legislatures in New York and Massachusetts, not satisfied with federal marks-of-origin requirements, debate new ways to make sure that no consumer can purchase Japanese or German goods without knowing it. New state and federal "Buy American" laws restrict the expenditure of hundreds of millions of public money to the purchase of domestic goods.

Now, matters such as these were not the stuff of the American tariff problem as it has heretofore been known. From the Civil War until the Great Depression, "tariff discussion" meant either the consideration of the general issue of Protection vs. Free Trade, or else the question as to whether the rate on a particular commodity, such as sugar or raw wool, was too high or too low. These were matters for Congress, not for administrative officers, to decide.


In a series of general tariff revisions, embodied in the acts of 1890, 1894, 1897, 1909, 1913, 1922 and 1930, Congress erected the towering structure of the visible tariff. Each successive tariff act was a major legislative event, attended by months of public discussion. Meanwhile, however, there was arising a second tariff structure, a comprehensive system of administrative controls over import trade. Attracting much less attention in

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