Carnegie’s Not-Fully-Grown-Infant-Industry Argument for Steel Tariffs

(p. 375) The steel industry was doubly dependent on state and national governments for the generous loans and subsidies that fueled railway expansion and rail purchases and the protective tariffs that enabled the manufacturers to keep their prices–and profits–higher than would have been possible had they been compelled to compete with European steelmakers. If, in the beginning, as Carnegie had argued, the tariff had been needed to nurture an infant steel industry, by the mid-1880s that infant had become a strapping, abrasive youth, who kept on growing. Why then, one might inconveniently ask, was there need for a protective tariff? Because, as Carnegie argued in the North American Review in July 1890, the steel industry was not yet fully grown and would have to be protected until it was.
On the issue of the tariff–as on few others–Pittsburgh’s workingmen were in agreement with Carnegie. They voted Republican in large numbers because the Republicans were the guardians of the protective tariff, and the tariff, they believed, protected their wage rates.
The argument linking the tariff and wages in the manufacturing sector was a compelling one in the industrial states, but nowhere else. As the Democrats took great delight in pointing out, high tariffs led to high prices for all consumers.

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.
(Note: italics in original.)
(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw’s book are the same.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *