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Let’s Not Forget the Industry on K Street!

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:


In “Steel Tariff Profiteers” (Feb. 4) you rightly criticize Pres. Trump for boasting that “Tariffs on the ‘dumping’ of Steel in the United States have totally revived our Steel Industry.” As you note, the tariff-induced gains of American steel producers come at the greater expense of American steel buyers. That Mr. Trump is blind to the hammering of American steel buyers – that, mightily squinting, the president sees only the ‘revived’ steel industry – doesn’t make steel-buyers’ suffering less real and worrisome.

But there is one other industry, also unmentioned by Mr. Trump, that his tariffs are reviving: the rent-seeking industry. As his administration and some toadying Republicans in Congress work to give Uncle Sam greater discretion in doling out protection from foreign competition, businesses will spend much more time and resources begging on the Potomac for favors. Many more producers will plead for higher tariffs while many others will plead for relief from the costs and disruptions inevitably created by these tariffs. Entrepreneurs’ and executives’ energies will be diverted from competing in the market for dollars spent by consumers to competing in Washington for special privileges dispensed by government officials.

In the end, the only winners will be politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists.

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