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If You Look at the Welfare Only of Protected Producers…

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:


American Iron and Steel Institute CEO Kevin Dempsey argues that Pres. Trump’s steel tariffs “worked” (Letters, Nov. 6). For evidence he points to U.S. steel producers’ increased capacity utilization and the protection of steel-worker jobs.

By so arguing Mr. Dempsey completely evades the chief economic objection to protectionism – namely, the resulting reduced access of consumers to other goods and services and the destruction of other firms and jobs elsewhere in the domestic economy. Obliging consumers to spend more on steel necessarily leaves them with less to spend on other things, while arranging for steel producers to increase output necessarily drains domestic resources away from other productive uses.

Mr. Dempsey’s argument is akin to that of the leader of a burglary ring who, having successfully bribed the police to turn a blind eye to his outfit’s predations, insists that his bribery “worked” because it results in more intense use of crow bars and lock picks, as well as more jobs for burglars.

Looking at the welfare only of protected producers makes no more sense than looking at the welfare only of protected thieves.

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