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Waging War Against One’s Own

Here’s a letter that I sent a few days ago to the Wall Street Journal:

The title of your report today on the looming escalation of trade restraints imposed by Washington and Beijing is accurate: “U.S., China Sharpen Trade Swords.”  But your description of these restraints – as U.S. “tariffs on steel and aluminum” and Chinese “duties … on soybeans, sorghum and hogs” – misses the essence of the matter.  Tariffs and duties are not paid by the likes of steel or hogs; they’re paid by people.  Furthermore, the people who pay these taxes in each country include that country’s own citizens, for these are the people whose actions these taxes are first and foremost meant to punish.  U.S. tariffs penalize Americans who buy American imports; Chinese tariffs penalize Chinese citizens who buy Chinese imports.  And the higher the tariffs, the harsher the penalties suffered by fellow citizens – people whose only offense is to stretch their budgets as far as possible.

So yes, Uncle Sam and Beijing are ‘sharpening’ their trade swords.  These weapons, however, when swung, will be swung by each government against its own people.  So-called “trade wars” are wars in which, to persuade foreign governments to stop attacking their citizens, each government attacks its own 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


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