The Great Depression

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Compare government and public sentiment on world trade between the Great Depression and today.

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While public sentiment today may be similar to that of the 1930s with regard to free trade, governmental actions today are very different than those of the Depression era.

We must acknowledge that it is very difficult to measure public attitudes about anything from as far back as the 1930s.  This was a time when scientific studies of public opinion had not yet been invented.  Therefore, we cannot know what people thought on this issue.  However, there is little evidence to suggest that there was much opposition to the Smoot-Hawley tariff when it was passed as a way to combat the Great Depression.  Today, it is fairly clear that many Americans are skeptical about free trade.  They tend to feel that trade agreements do not help the United States.  These attitudes become stronger in bad economic times.

However, these attitudes do not seem to affect government policy to any great degree.  The US has made no moves to remove itself from organizations like the World Trade Organization.  It has made no attempts to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement or to renegotiate that agreement.  Politicians typically talk tough about China during campaigns, but do little to end free trade with that country once in office.  Even with the economic slowdown, there has been no major protectionist policy implemented.

Thus, while public opinion may be similar to that of the 1930s, government action has not been.  US governments remain solidly pro-trade in their actions.

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