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Mr. Schlafly Is as Innocent of Economics as Was His Mother, Phyllis

Here’s a letter to WND:

In the heavy heap of mistaken claims that Andy Schlafly shovels out in defense of Pres. Trump’s trade policy is this beaut: “Tariffs are much like the out-of-state tuition state colleges charge students whose families have not supported the college through taxes” (“Trump on Trade: Putting Americans First,” March 6).

Memo to Mr. Schlafly: tariffs are punitive taxes on fellow citizens.

Protective tariffs are designed, not to raise revenue, but to artificially restrict fellow-citizens’ range of options for stretching their budgets.  These tariffs are not a means of stopping foreigners from free-riding on the resources of domestic citizens: not only are imports (save in extremely rare cases of theft) produced with resources – and environmental amenities – owned exclusively by foreigners, every cent that domestic citizens spend on imports is spent voluntarily.

Indeed, protective tariffs themselves create free-riding.  These tariffs enable some domestic citizens (namely, producers with political power) to free-ride on the resources of other domestic citizens (namely, consumers and producers with no political power) – other domestic citizens who are penalized by their own government if and when they do not spend their money in ways that artificially swell the bottom-lines of privileged producers.  Protective tariffs are an institution that gives a handful of domestic producers excessive access to fellow citizens’ resources – access that these privileged producers neither earn nor deserve but gain only through the state’s coercive interference with the peaceful commercial decisions of fellow citizens.

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