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Imports Pay No Tariffs

Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:

Your reporters write that “President Trump on Thursday said he will impose punishing tariffs on imported steel and aluminum” (“Trump finally gets his tariffs – and much of the world recoils,” March 2).  Mr. Trump perhaps did describe his action in this way.  But let’s clarify: tariffs imposed by Uncle Sam are not imposed on imported steel, aluminum, or anything else.  These tariffs are imposed on Americans who buy imports.

These tariffs are imposed on us flesh-and-blood men and women who are thereby prevented by our government – one that supposedly acts in our best interest – from stretching our household budgets as far as possible.  These tariffs are imposed on flesh-and-blood business owners across this country who thereby must pay unnecessarily higher prices for inputs that they use to produce outputs for sale to their customers – customers who, in turn, must pay unnecessarily higher prices for these outputs and, thus, have less to spend elsewhere in the U.S. economy.

The negative effects of these tariffs don’t stop there.  Because these tariffs force Americans to spend less elsewhere, sales of goods and services elsewhere in the U.S. economy fall.  Jobs elsewhere in the U.S. economy are thus destroyed.  Businesses elsewhere in the U.S. economy shrink or are shuttered.  Incomes elsewhere in the U.S. economy decline.

Cargoes of steel and aluminum on which tariffs are said to be “imposed” pay and suffer nothing, for these cargoes are inanimate.  Those who pay for, and suffer from, Mr. Trump’s tariffs are living, breathing Americans whose lives have just been made a bit more trying by the president’s disgraceful coddling of a small handful of greedy pleaders for special privilege.

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