Presidents have authority to make tariff decisions thanks to Depression-era bill : Planet Money One of the few things a new president has a lot of control over is tariff policies. But it wasn't always that way. | Subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.
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Worst. Tariffs. Ever. (Classic)

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Worst. Tariffs. Ever. (Classic)

Worst. Tariffs. Ever. (Classic)

Worst. Tariffs. Ever. (Classic)

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/933950483/933955633" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Smoot and Hawley. Library of Congress hide caption

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Library of Congress

Smoot and Hawley.

Library of Congress

Note: This episode originally ran in 2018.

President-elect Joe Biden will be making a lot of decisions come January — including whether or not to keep President Trump's trade war going. President Trump has imposed tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in imports. If Biden really wanted to, he could undo all of these tariffs, without requiring approval from Congress.

But presidents didn't always have this kind of power over tariffs. In fact, tariffs used to be the jurisdiction of Congress... until they screwed it up, big time.

Today on the show, we tell the nearly 100-year-old story of Smoot and Hawley, that explains why Congress decided to delegate tariff power to the executive branch in the first place. It's a story that weaves in wool, humble buckwheat, tiny little goldfish, and even Ferris Bueller.

Music: "Addicted to You," "Soul Child" and "Bugatti."

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Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts and NPR One.

Found on the cutting room floor for Ferris Bueller's Day Off: "The best way to learn about economics is... anyone? Anyone? By subscribing to the Planet Money Newsletter."