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Getting the Language Right

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

A recent headline of yours reads “Trump Doubles Down on Threats to Impose Tariffs on European Cars” (Jan. 21).

May I suggest that you change your policy to always refer to tariffs as being imposed on people rather than on goods and services? Automobiles, sugar, and other imports – being inanimate – pay nothing. Tariffs are paid only by people, and especially by citizens of the government that imposes them. The whole point of protective tariffs, after all, is to artificially raise the prices of imports in order to entice domestic citizens to pay prices higher than these flesh-and-blood people would otherwise pay for imports’ domestically produced alternatives.

A more accurate and revealing headline in this case would be “Trump Doubles Down on Threats to Impose Tariffs on American buyers of European Cars.” This candid description better draws readers’ attention to the tariff’s actual victims.

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