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Zero Reason to Accept this Common Assertion

Here’s the latest in my on-going correspondence with “proud Trump man” Nolan McKinney:

Mr. McKinney:

You write that you’re “unpersuaded” by my “arguments against using tariffs to entice other countries to stop distorting global markets.”

All I can say in response is that I’m unpersuaded by the many arguments for using tariffs to entice other governments to stop distorting global markets.

Forget that governments seeking to reduce each others’ tariffs and subsidies have met with far more success by negotiating trade agreements than through unilateral ‘retaliatory’ actions.

Instead ask: why should anyone believe that the U.S. government is so seriously interested in protecting Americans from market distortions that we ought to tolerate it imposing on us further distortions in the form of allegedly “retaliatory” tariffs and export subsidies?

Even ignoring supposed “retaliatory” trade restrictions, the U.S. government, and each state and local government, creates an avalanche of market-distorting policies – capital-gains and other taxes, subsidies to small businesses, occupational-licensing requirements, minimum-wage legislation, land-use regulations, discretionary monetary policy,..… the list is very long. You can applaud all, some, or none of these interventions, but you cannot deny that each brings about outcomes different from outcomes that would arise under pure laissez faire.

I’m quite sure that interventions from Washington alone are enormously costly. And so if the matter weren’t so serious, I’d find hilarious the assertion that the U.S. government uses tariffs and other trade interventions only because it is deeply devoted to bringing about a world as free as possible of market distortions. As assertions go, I know of none that is more preposterous and in contradiction with reality than this one.

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


Anyone who believes this excuse for tariffs and other trade restrictions is someone who, upon discovering a burglar in his home, believes the burglar’s assurances that he, the burglar, is stealing the homeowner’s stuff only to protect the homeowner from future acts of thievery.