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No Credit Due

Here’s a letter to Penn Live:


Seldom do I disagree with my colleague Tyler Cowen, and never do I do so lightly, but he errs in giving Pres. Trump some credit for the current truce in the U.S.-China trade war (“Trump deserves some credit for a truce with China,” Dec. 4).

Tyler is correct that Americans complained about U.S. trade with China long before Trump arrived on the scene politically. But nearly all of these complaints – including of the existence of protectionism abroad – are as illegitimate as they are shop-worn. The principal victims of Beijing’s tariffs, subsidies, and refusal to dismantle its state-owned enterprises are not Americans but the Chinese. Those policies weaken the Chinese economy relative to economies that aren’t saddled as heavily with such burdens. And so when our government ‘retaliates’ – as it does with special vigor under Trump – with its own restrictions on our commerce, it unnecessarily inflicts on us economic damage similar to the damage that Beijing inflicts on the people of China.

At the core of Trump’s trade policy is his attempt to drum up more business for some U.S. producers by penalizing American consumers, as well as American businesses that import inputs. It’s no good excuse for these penalties that Beijing imposes similar or worse penalties on the Chinese.

Given that Trump could – and should – simply stop inflicting this economic abuse on Americans regardless of Beijing’s policies, I see no more reason for applauding Trump’s agreement to temporarily halt the abuse that he inflicts on us than I would see for applauding Smith’s agreement to temporarily stop abusing his children in exchange for Jones’s agreement to temporarily stop abusing her children. The abuse itself, and in each case, is unjustified; neither instance of it gains a shred of acceptability because it is practiced by others.

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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