Monday, September 11, 2023

Editors at National Review, the iconic conservative magazine, say Donald Trump's trade policies in a second term would be "destructive" and "disastrous"

(Business Insider)

Editors at the nation's premier conservative magazine say Donald Trump's trade agenda for a possible second term would be "dangerous" and "destructive," much worse than the flawed trade policies of Trump's first term.

In an opinion piece at National Review, the iconic magazine founded in 1955 by William F. Buckley Jr., editors warn that Trump's misguided approach on trade would be unsettling on many fronts -- leading to tax increases, unemployment, and turmoil in foreign affairs. Under the headline "Donald Trump’s Destructive Trade Agenda," the editors write:

Donald Trump’s trade policies were bad when he was president, and they would be much worse if he becomes president again. He is proposing a minimum tariff on all imports, with aides floating a rate of 10 percent. After his record of failure on specific tariffs for washing machines or steel and aluminum during his presidency, a universalized version of that failure is in nobody’s best interest — except trade lawyers in Washington, D.C.

Despite its description as universal, if actually implemented, it would not be. Every lobbyist from every company with international trading partners (which is basically all the big ones, and the small-business lobby wouldn’t be happy about it either) would march on Washington demanding exemptions. Many of them would make very convincing cases.

For example, the Big Three automakers essentially treat Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario as one economic zone, with parts and finished products moving across the U.S.–Canada border in both directions every day. Canada isn’t an enemy, and no politician wants to be blamed for lost auto-manufacturing jobs, so that exemption would likely come easy. At that point, every other lobbyist would smell blood in the water.

 If that sounds like an environment ripe for corruption, that's because it would be, write the editors:

Of course, these exemptions would be doled out according to political favoritism as well. Protectionism has a way of turning into a protection racket, where political support is exchanged for favorable treatment by the government. A universal tariff would be a universal invitation for corruption.

Tariffs are a tax on Americans, no matter what any politician may tell you. Trump is arguing for a tax increase, undermining his greatest legislative achievement as president, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. This tariff proposal could be called the Tax Hikes and Unemployment Act.

Protectionists promise to save jobs, but a universal tariff would be disastrous for American workers. About half of all U.S. imports are inputs for domestic production. By raising the price of those inputs, tariffs would lead many companies to compensate by hiring fewer workers or laying off existing workers.

Worse than the tax increase itself, though, would be the turmoil a 10 percent tariff would cause in foreign affairs. It would violate many of the trade agreements currently in place, and other countries would retaliate with their own tariffs on on U.S. products. That would be a further invitation for lobbyists to come to Washington asking for exemptions and special favors.

Trump portrays himself as an economic nationalist, but his tariffs would weaken America’s standing in the world. Making it harder to trade with the U.K., the EU, Mexico, Canada, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, Israel, Brazil, and Taiwan is not in the U.S. national interest

It is one of the great national strengths of the U.S. that basically every other country in the world wants to do business with Americans. Most countries have to beg for international commerce, creating all kinds of incentive programs and diplomatic campaigns to attract foreigners. But the U.S. is the largest consumer market in the world, and foreigners are very keen to sell to us.

Trump had his chance on trade, unilaterally imposing tariffs on specific products for four years. We know how those worked out. His tariffs on steel and aluminum added about 26,000 jobs in the steel and aluminum industries, but cost about 500,000 jobs everywhere else. Far more Americans are employed in industries that use those metals than in the industries that make them. What’s good for the politically well-connected steel industry is not necessarily good for the country.

His tariffs on washing machines, created partly at the request of Whirlpool, raised $82 million in revenue while costing consumers $1.5 billion. Bad deal. Domestic washing-machine producers added 1,800 estimated jobs, which means the tariffs “created” those jobs at a cost of about $815,000 each. Really bad deal.

In total, despite his four years of trade wars, the trade deficit, which Trump claims is a huge problem, increased on his watch. In perhaps the most damning indictment of Trump’s trade policies, Joe Biden has mostly left them in place, and the trade deficit has stayed high. These policies aren’t even achieving the misbegotten goal of lowering a national-accounting statistic, let alone boosting real economic output or employment.

Yet Trump is, in essence, shouting, “True tariffs have never been tried!” They have, they didn’t work, and they should be reduced, not increased.

Let's revisit the first sentence, the one highlighted in yellow, in the next to last paragraph above: In total, despite his four years of trade wars, the trade deficit, which Trump claims is a huge problem, increased on his watch.

What does that tell us? In 2016, Trump had not much of a record on trade, so many voters probably had little idea if he knew what he was talking about. But Trump now has a four-year record, and we know the results of his stewardship were not pretty, straight from the National Review:

We have four years of experience with Trump as president, they tell us that he lies -- a lot. We also know that he is clueless on a wide range of subjects. Given his background, many Americans probably assumed he was strong on business, on issues like trade. But as president, we now know he is not strong on business, or much of anything else.

Will the American people grasp that notion, that fact -- at some point, before it is too late?

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