Most Americans think of the United States as a free trade island in a sea of protectionist nations. In reality, the U.S. government maintains significant barriers to trade. Tariffs, quotas, and "voluntary restraint agreements" are the most common forms of protection. These barriers restrict consumer choice and drive up the prices we pay for goods and services. No one knows just how much more consumers must pay because of trade barriers, though in 1986 economist Gary Hufbauer put the figure at $65 billion. More recently, other economists have studied some particular industries and found that the bill quickly adds up to $28 billion, even excluding most of the economy.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "The Price of Protection".