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Another Open Letter to the U.S. Secretary of Anti-commerce

Mr. Wilbur Ross
Secretary of Commerce
Washington, DC

Mr. Ross:

You and your Commerce department lieutenants justify punitively taxing American buyers of imported steel on the grounds that the economy-wide impact of these punitive taxes will be “negligible” – as in, difficult to detect in the aggregate data on an economy that annually generates $19 trillion in output.  The benefits to coddled steel executives and workers will, for them, be significant while the costs to the rest of us who are forced to pay for this coddling will be, well, “negligible.”

Tell me, do you then also believe that the government should legalize pickpocketing?  After all, without question the overall negative effects of pickpocketing will be “negligible” as a portion of the overall American economy while the benefits to these thieves will, for them, be significant.

If – as I suspect – you do not believe that pickpocketing should be legalized, can you explain how pickpocketing differs from the steel tariffs that you support?  Try as you might, sir, you’ll fail, for such tariffs differ neither in their effects nor their ethics from pickpocketing: in both cases property is sneakily transferred from those who’ve earned it to those who greedily snatch it.  The only real difference is that pickpockets, unlike protected American producers, do not outsource the carrying-out of their thievery to the government.

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