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Trumpian Flat-Earthism Trade ‘Policy’

30 May 2018

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross
Washington, DC

Mr. Ross:

Today on the radio I heard a clip of you asserting that, because Chinese tariffs are higher than are American tariffs, the U.S. government therefore is justified in raising American tariffs.


Suppose that, instead of imposing tariffs, Beijing builds a machine for controlling the weather in Chinese ports. Using this machine, Beijing keeps the seas calm for ships leaving Chinese ports with exports for sale by Chinese producers, but creates violent storms that destroy ships entering Chinese ports with imports bound for purchase by Chinese buyers. And suppose also that Uncle Sam currently has no such machine.

Would you regard Beijing’s possession and use of this machine as an advantage for the Chinese economy? Would you advocate that Uncle Sam build such a machine and use it to destroy in U.S. waters the same number of incoming cargo ships as Beijing destroys in Chinese waters? If – as I suspect – you answer “no,” then you are inexcusably inconsistent, for U.S.-imposed tariffs on American imports are nothing but a different means of achieving the very same outcome – namely, senselessly making American consumers poorer by destroying goods bound for purchase and use in America.

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