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Boulders, Mud, Mines, Tariffs – Different Means of Achieving the Same End

Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:

George Will beautifully explains how trade creates prosperity: low-value-added jobs, such as those in South Carolina’s textile mills, have, because of trade, been replaced by higher-value-added jobs, such as those in that state’s booming tire-manufacturing plants (“Charleston’s port needs deepening. Can Congress do its job?” Sept. 22).

But in this election year that features so much hostility to trade, Mr. Will should not be surprised that Uncle Sam is dithering on dredging Charleston’s harbor.  In fact, given the candidates’ and the voters’ lethal embrace of protectionism, it’s more surprising that Uncle Sam isn’t now at work filling the harbor with boulders and mines.  Reducing the harbor’s physical accessibility, after all, is simply another means of achieving what many politicians of both parties promise to do with tariffs: raise Americans’ costs of trading with foreigners.

Or from a different perspective: why should government waste taxpayers’ dollars on the dredging of harbors if it plans to use tariffs to keep cargo ships from moving freely into and out of those harbors?

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