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Do Trump’s Tariffs Really Protect Anybody At All?

The president’s tariffs have been dubbed a form of protectionism, but are they actually protecting anyone?

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By Kaycee Ikeonu | Canada

In a 1978 talk, the great economist, Milton Friedman, famously stated that tariffs protect consumers from one thing: “it protects the consumer against low prices!” Friedman, of course, could not have been more right, but his words are ignored with today’s trade wars and tariffs.

Such words of wisdom are essential today amid harsh criticism of free trade from the Trump administration. Some of these critiques include that the United States is losing jobs overseas to countries like Mexico, that the United States has large deficits compared to her trade partners, and most significantly, the need to protect steel and aluminium industries in the United States from going out of business.

An in-depth economic rebuttal of all of these proposals exists. Yet, it is not fully necessary, as the basic rules of economics outline the clear benefits of free trade. Adam Smith, in his famous book, The Wealth of Nations, declares it perfectly. It is in people of any nation’s interest to buy whatever they want from whomever sells it the cheapest.

This is a concept that could not be easier to grasp. When people buy products at lower prices, they then have more money to spend on other goods in the economy.

Now, let’s take a case that is about to happen: The U.S. imposes a tariff on Chinese imports, and now China threatens to put a tariff of $60B on U.S. goods. So, who benefits? The American economy? The American and Chinese consumers now pay a tax on goods. Without the taxes and subsidies on both sides, both countries would strengthen their economies. But instead, they are resorting to subsidizing the hurt regions after hurting them in the first place.

Thus, very few people benefit from this policy. Perhaps, exceptions exist in a few big manufacturers and the ego of the President of the United States.


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