Here’s a letter to a Trumpkin:
Mr. Sam Craig
I’m sorry that my “Notable & Quotable” in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal has you in such a froth. Yet none of the quotations that you kindly supplied from Donald Trump’s stump speeches offers a sound reason for Uncle Sam to raise tariffs on imports from China.
Your underlying principle – Trump’s underlying principle – the underlying principle of all who would use government coercion to obstruct consumers’ spending choices is that consumers’ spending must be done first and foremost for the benefit of visible, existing domestic producers rather than for the benefit of the people who earned the money in the first place and who then choose to spend it – namely, consumers themselves.
I reject this principle fully and unconditionally.
In fact, let’s test just how consistently you’re willing to stick to this principle. Because you believe that consumers should be forced to spend the fruits of their labor not in ways that they judge to be best for them but in ways that politicians judge to be best for certain existing domestic producers, do you believe that government – in addition to imposing tariffs on imports – should also ban refrigerators in homes? After all, if consumers were unable to store food at home, they’d make more trips to supermarkets. These extra trips would increase consumer demand for gasoline and thus create more jobs in American oil fields and for drivers of trucks to deliver gasoline to service stations. Likewise, supermarkets would probably have to hire more cashiers. A third excellent effect is that a ban on home refrigerators would likely increase Americans’ demand to dine out, thus raising employment in the restaurant industry. Sure, consumers would be somewhat worse off, but focus on all the extra jobs that would be created!
And how about also legislation that makes it unlawful for Americans to mow their own lawns, to do their own laundry, to groom their own pets, to wash, maintain, and repair their own automobiles, to clean and repair their own homes, and to administer their own first-aid? Would you (and Trump) support such legislation? After all, think of the resulting boom in jobs for workers employed by lawn-care services, maid services, pet stores, auto-repair firms, handyman services, and hospital emergency rooms. Surely the petty convenience and frivolous freedom of consumers to spend their money as they choose ought not block what you describe as “the tremendous benefits” of “gutsy action to create more jobs here in the great USA.”
Now if you don’t support the kinds of restrictions that I mention just above, then you’ll pardon me for dismissing as foolish your (and Trump’s) support for tariffs because I’ll recognize such support as being the result, not of careful and considerate thought, but instead of all-too-common economic ignorance.
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030