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Excuses are Not Reasons

Here’s a letter to a Cafe Hayek reader:

Mr. Carson Duhe

Mr. Duhe:

You “trust President Trump to use tariffs to prevent Chinese IP theft.” I believe that you place your trust imprudently. There are many reasons not to trust Trump on this score, but I here mention only the biggest two – namely, he’s not a free trader, and he gives absolutely no signs of understanding the first thing about trade.

For any politician to begin to be worthy of being trusted to use tariffs as a means of ‘solving’ a problem such as IP theft requires that he or she be committed in principle to free trade. Only such a person understands that the use of tariffs is costly and dangerous. Only such a person can be trusted to use tariffs sparingly and to end their use as soon as the problem passes. Only such a person can be presumed not to inflate the size of the alleged problem to be targeted with tariffs. Indeed, only such a person can be trusted not to fabricate problems as excuses to impose tariffs.

Trump is emphatically not such a person. Nor are any of his lieutenants. Even overlooking the many practical problems of trusting even the most economically informed champion of free trade to use tariffs to prompt other governments to change their policies, trusting Trump & Co. to use tariffs to solve a problem is akin to trusting self-proclaimed pyromaniacs to start a controlled burn in order to stop the spread of a forest fire.

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