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The Art of the Steal

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

The title of Melissa Francis’s essay “The Art of the Steel Tariffs” (March 16) is one vowel off and one word too long.  A more accurate description of Pres. Trump’s practice of punitively taxing Americans who buy steel and aluminum is “The Art of the Steal.”

Ms. Francis is likely correct that Mr. Trump’s newly announced tariffs are merely his opening play in a grand bargaining strategy over trade.  But she is incorrect to suggest that the outcome for which Mr. Trump is so artfully bargaining will benefit Americans generally.  Every word that Mr. Trump has ever uttered on trade reveals his belief that the benefits that we Americans enjoy from trade come from, and are measured by, our exports – and that our imports are a cost that we pay, or even a curse that we suffer, in order to export.

Blind to the reality that shipping valuable goods and services to strangers abroad is a cost that we incur in order to reap the benefits of consuming the goods and services that we receive in return from these strangers, Mr. Trump is bargaining for us Americans to give up more to foreigners and to get less in return.  In short, Mr. Trump is bargaining to make all of us poorer – all of us, that is, except the relatively few owners and workers of protected industries whose incomes will be artificially bloated by Mr. Trump successfully ‘bargaining’ to oblige the rest of us to pay unnecessarily higher prices.

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


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