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The Playing Field that Needs Leveling is the One on the Potomac

Here’s a letter to someone who describes himself as “frustrated” by my “hostility to American interests.” Where this man got this notion is beyond me.

Mr. Richard Crowe

Mr. Crowe:

With respect, I tire of people trying to justify tariffs by asserting that these trade restrictions are a means of “leveling the playing field” of trade with other countries that use tariffs and subsidies. For many reasons, only two of which I mention here, this phrase is a meaningless bromide that rouses emotion and douses thought.

First, trade isn’t a game played for the benefit of the participating producers. Instead, trade is simply that which happens when consumers voluntarily spend their money and producers compete to earn some of that money by making offers to consumers. The only result we care about is how much better off over time are consumers. The greater the improvement over time in consumers’ welfare, the greater are the benefits of trade, regardless of the reasons some particular producers profited in the process and others did not.

Second, the real victims of foreign-governments’ tariffs and subsidies are not Americans; the victims are foreign consumers and taxpayers. It is these foreign consumers and taxpayers who play on an unfairly sloped field – one tilted against them and in favor of special-interest groups in those foreign countries. And so when Uncle Sam responds in kind with his own tariffs and subsidies, Uncle Sam tilts the playing field here at home unfairly in favor of politically powerful American producers and against the rest of us. I object to such home-grown unfairness.

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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