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Rationalizing Rank Ignorance

Here’s a letter to the New York Sun:


In defense of Trump’s tariffs, Ira Stoll accuses tariff critics of failing “to consider fully some significant aspects of the story” (“Why Democrats Fail To Attack Trump’s Tariffs,” Sept. 9). This accusation is unwarranted.

Serious critics of Trump’s trade policy justly challenge his tariffs by evaluating the arguments for these tariffs offered by Trump himself. Contrary to what readers likely infer from Mr. Stoll’s column, Trump doesn’t sell his tariffs as a means of protecting workers in China from poor work conditions – or, indeed, as a means of achieving anything beyond hackneyed protectionist goals. Trump’s case for tariffs is nothing more than a litany of standard, centuries-old mercantilist fallacies, with special – and especially ridiculous – emphasis on the completely imaginary harm inflicted on America by our bilateral trade deficit with that country.

Because Trump’s express reasons for protectionism never include arguments other than clownish versions of the economically ignorant ones that Adam Smith thoroughly debunked in 1776, why should we suppose that Trump intends his tariffs to serve as tools for achieving deeper and more-nuanced outcomes?

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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