Donald Trump

Trump's Former Top Economic Advisor Blasts White House's Tariff Plans

"We should buy from them what they're good at; we should sell to them what we're good at," says Gary Cohn, who left the White House in March.


Sipa USA/Newscom

In his first interview since leaving the White House in early March, former top economic advisor Gary Cohn criticized President Donald Trump's plan to impose tariffs on steel, aluminum, and thousands of Chinese-made goods.

"I believe that we are very good at doing certain things in the United States. Other countries are very good at doing different things," Cohn said during a Tuesday interview on CNBC. "We should buy from them what they're good at. We should sell to them what we're good at."

That opinion apparently clashed with the economic nationalism that has taken hold in the Trump administration. It was widely reported that Cohn's opposition to tariffs provided a bulwark against Trump's demands for protectionism back in 2017, but that the disagreement over trade policy eventually led to Cohn's resignation. Just days after he left the post, Trump announced a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum. Those tariffs have already caused prices to rise and harmed American businesses.

Cohn seemed to confirm those disagreements, describing himself Tuesday as "a free trader" and "a globalist" who is firmly anti-tariff.

Cohn is hardly the only advisor whose opinion has been cast aside by Trump in his quest to reshape American trade policy. The president has steamed ahead with tariff plans despite warnings from members of his own party in Congress, opposition from trade groups, and some strong signals from the stock market. Last week, a group of more than 1,000 economists sent a letter to the White House and Congress urging the removal of barriers to trade. Foreign governments have threatened to respond to Trump's tariffs by targeting the free trade of American agricultural goods, amoung other things. It's been good news for lobbyists, but that's about all.

While Trump has softened a bit on the steel and aluminum tariffs—he has granted temporary exemptions to several major U.S. trading partners, giving them until June 1 to reach bilateral deals with the United States—he's still pursuing additional tariffs on some 1,300 Chinese-made goods. The Office of the United States Trade Representative is currently mulling those proposed trade barriers.

Cohn echoed the concerns of business and trade groups, which have signaled that Trump's tariffs may undo some of the economic good will created by the tax cuts passed in late 2017.

"I don't like the tariffs. I don't think we want the steel and aluminum prices going up," Cohn said. "People are concerned that the economic policies of Washington are not as clear this year as they were last year."

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  1. In a vacuum, sure.

    We are trading with China. China has tariffs, Communist Party restrictions on American goods, and regularly steals our tech. Our trade with China is not remotely free trade but managed and China has managed to get a better trade deal than the USA.

    Most importantly, China is building man-made islands for a reason and its not so their people can get a good sun tan.

    If threats of trade tariffs gets China to talk and our trade with them becomes more free than I am okay with short term tariffs. I am also okay with tariffs if they are the primary revenue for a tiny federal government.

    With all that being said, free trade is the best.

    1. China has managed to get a better trade deal than the USA.

      Care to elaborate?

      1. Well they subsidize their products so we Americans pay less… dammit that’s not right.

        Also Guam, Okinawa, Thailand, Korea – explain why it is acceptable for the USA to have bases near China but they can’t have a base in the South China Sea? Christ we have 800 or so military bases worldwide but China builds one and I am supposed to be up in arms over that.

        1. Sometimes a Great Notion|5.8.18 @ 4:39PM|#
          Well they subsidize their products so we Americans pay less… dammit that’s not right.
          Also Guam, Okinawa, Thailand, Korea – explain why it is acceptable for the USA to have bases near China but they can’t have a base in the South China Sea? Christ we have 800 or so military bases worldwide but China builds one and I am supposed to be up in arms over that.

          The Japanese want the USA in Okinawa and the Koreans want the USA in Korea and we already fought a war in the 1940s over that area.

          Guam has been American territory since the the Spanish-American War and the Treaty of Paris.

          Sorry that you don’t know that Japan created a buffer zone in the Pacific just like the Chinese are doing to keep the US Navy at bay when war breaks out. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now.

          If you think China has only built one man-made island in the South China Sea then you clearly have zero background on the issue. You just sound like a dumb-dumb.

          1. Still haven’t given me a reason to care about Chinese military patrolling their territorial waters ( If you answer is because Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines… all have a claim to those waters, I say that is a justification to entering an agreement to have them have zero tariffs maybe call it the TPP2 and say you want us to protect you fine let our goods in at no tariff, otherwise learn Mandarin/Cantonese fuckers. Use our adversary’s position of strength to our advantage.

            1. I see. You are ignorant of the background issue and do not even know what territorial water limits are.

              Good luck with that dumb-dumb.

            2. This is not about the Chinese patrolling their territorial waters. And no, it’s not that other countries have claims to them. The issue is that China is trying to claim a large chunk of international waters, most of it far, far away from any inhabited Chinese territory, vital to substantial international commercial traffic (about $5 trillion worth of shipping on an annual basis). And they are building a whole ring of military bases on various rocks in order to make it possible to enforce this illegal claim at gunpoint.

        2. “Well they subsidize their products so we Americans pay less… dammit that’s not right.”

          China subsidizes their products so that more of their citizens spend their time producing value.

      2. The US tends toward free market capitalism, we allow the masses to decide what they want and don’t want and that’s how we decide what gets produced and at what price and in what quantity. China, on the other hand, uses Top Men to decide what people should want and shouldn’t want and that’s how they decide what gets produced and at what price and in what quantity. Clearly, using Top Men to make these decisions rather than letting all the random jackasses in the whole country make decisions they’re not qualified to make about what’s for their own good and in their own self-interest is a superior method of managing an economy. How can we possibly compete with the Chinese when we allow everybody and their brother to have a vote in how things are run and the Chinese are smart enough to only allow Top Men to have a vote?

        1. Jerryskids, its not about competition because clearly the USA can compete with China. The issue is using short-term trade restrictions like tariffs to get China to open their markets more. That has nothing to do with competition but their restrictive Communist Party government.

        2. Yes, free markets are better, in my opinion. But if Trump can negotiate away restrictions into the Chinese market for US exporters (i.e. create a freer Chinese market), we’ll be better off. Whether or not that’s what he’s really trying to do, and if he is, whether he can pull it off without us incurring offsetting costs is an entirely different matter.

      3. China can trade nearly whatever they want with the USA. American regulation is minimal when compared to Chinese regulation.

        The United States cannot trade whatever its businesses want with China. China limits US companies freedoms under the US Constitution to comply with the Communist Party (Google being an example).

        There are only a few examples.

        1. I don’t identify with Cartman or Randy’s characters, so I guess your little naive dismissal of any possible Chinese threat checks out then.

          1. That was called a joke. Lighten up, snowflake.

    2. Apparently MAGA stands for Make Argentina Great Again now that the proposed steel tariffs have DowDuPont looking to move $6 billion in capital expenditures out of the United States: DowDuPont Says Trump Steel Tariffs Hurt Case for New U.S. Plants. Economic Nationalism is shit policy, and punishes American consumers. If President Trump wanted to fight China he should be appealing World Trade Organization. Cato recently covered this topic: Disciplining China at the WTO.

    3. and regularly steals our tech.

      China also goes around the world with US cash to buy up petroleum production assets from communist governments that stole the property from US firms.

      1. There is a huge Chinese spying operation in the USA right now and these little FBI arrests of half-a-dozen Chinese nationals is just the tip of the iceberg.

        Hopefully our government is on top of it but it does have a history of incompetence.

    4. Therefore we should cut off our nose to spite our face?

    5. In a vacuum

      Cuz is in a Hoovur and hes esplaining trade to us and shiznet Get out the Hooovur cus u must smell like hair n dirt and what not. tssss

    6. This is basically bunk we’ve heard about a million times. For the love of god…

      China’s tax on its own populace does not mean we have to embrace taxes on our own people. You can go on with semantic subtleties about managed trade all day, but its does not change the facts on the ground.

      If only if only…tarriffs lead to a “tiny federal government”. If it were so, I’d strike a deal with the devil too…but these are more likely to suppress our economic growth as our spending continues its unabated upward spiral.

      You say free trade is best…but it doesn’t look like you are really bought in to this concept.

  2. Except it’s not what they are good at vs what we are good at. There are subsidies and laws that affect the price of manufacturing, And there’s a ton of protectionism on there end, either.

    While I think the tariffs are wrong, it’s a much more complex matter than it’s being made out to be.

    1. Actually, it’s a much more simple matter than it’s being made out to be. Basic laws of supply and demand dictate how many things are produced and how much things sell for. Subsidies and tariffs are simply Top Men deciding that the basic laws of economics are wrong and they know better what the “right” price and quantity of things should be. You either trust in the free market, that all of us is smarter than any of us, or you think that the letting everybody decide for themselves leads to bad outcomes and we need somebody to make our decisions for us, you believe some of us are smarter than all of us. At the moment that would be Donald Trump doing the deciding as to what the “right” price and quantity of all sorts of imports and exports should be, so, you know, pleasant dreams!

      1. all of us is smarter than any of us

        Wrong. /sarc

    2. There is nothing complex about it, protectionists just try to make it sound complex to cover up the absurd lack of logic underpinning their arguments. Why should we complain about china sending us foreign aid? They are not hurting the U.S. by subsidizing their goods, they are only hurting themselves. Hell, I wish they would just give the goods to us for free. That would be best of all. If China wants to make us free stuff and accept pieces of paper or act as an inflation sink for us then why the hell should we complain. That is worth losing a few jobs over.

      1. ^This

  3. “People are concerned that the economic policies of Washington are not as clear this year as they were last year.”

    With all due respect, I doubt that’s a major concern of “people”.

    Of course, they could be concerned that this year’s policies are not as clear as they were in, say, 1942.

    1. Alex Winter is still alive? Who knew!

      1. He is a successful director.

    2. NO WAY!

    3. Wyld Stallyns > Lynyrd Skynyrd > Wang Chung > The Beatles

    4. “This is most bodacious, dude!”


      “I said, this is most bodacious!”

      “Good idea, I think I’ll have the tater tots, as well.”

  4. Another meeting of Libertarians For Tariffs And Protectionism has convened at the comments section of an ostensibly libertarian website.

    I know it’s the sticks-and-hicks section of the website, but still . . . .

    1. That and tariffs are specifically mentioned in the Constitution and used by Classical Liberals like the Founding Fathers to fund the tiny federal government.

      If we only had a tiny federal government.

      1. These tariffs aren’t aimed at funding government.

        They’re aimed at flattering the no-count yahoos who figured Pres. Trump would rework economic fundamentals to enable half-educated, unskilled, downscale white male Republicans to prosper — and to do so at the expense of accomplished, educated, “elites” who inhabit our modern, successful, liberal-libertarian communities.

        Libertarians know the difference, and know what to make of them. Faux libertarians just continue to mindlessly support Trump.

        Carry on, clingers.

      2. And protectionist tariffs were already being abused by the time of the Civil War, so much so that the Confederate States of America made such protectionism unconstitutional:

        The Congress shall have power ? To lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises for revenue, necessary to pay the debts, provide for the common defense, and carry on the Government of the Confederate States; but no bounties shall be granted from the Treasury; nor shall any duties or taxes on importations from foreign nations be laid to promote or foster any branch of industry; and all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the Confederate States.

      3. Fuck the constitution. What does the constitution have to do with liberty or libertarianism? Tariffs are clearly a form of the state infringing on the rights of individuals to engage in free commerce, regardless of what the constitution says.

        1. During one of the most unregulated periods in American history, the government paid its bills largely through tariffs.

          There’s no such thing as an advanced society without at least a little bit of government getting involved.

    2. “Libertarianism means enriching Communist tyranny in China”

  5. The neocons and hicklibs finally found a war they’re unwilling to fight.

    1. How many “hicklibs” do you figure there are? My experience is that the sticks and hicks are mostly backward, intolerant, and conservative.

      1. My experience is that the sticks and hicks are mostly backward, intolerant, and conservative.

        A hicklib is the first two and liberal instead of conservative. You know, who you are.

  6. “We should buy from them what they’re good at; we should sell to them what we’re good at”

    Screw Labor – the eternal cry of the Globalist

      1. Green Lives Matter!

        1. Support the religion of peace!

    1. Make America Make Socks Again!

      1. I fear my clothing is somewhat damaged, but how delightful to discover at my age that I can still wrestle.

      2. Trick question, it was Fillmore…oh, who am I kidding, yes, it was Lincoln.

        Guess who is in the Sumo Wrestling Hall of Fame?

        1. Your mom?


          1. Oh, a variant of the old “yo momma so fat” joke. How creative.

  7. “On Saturday…Karl Marx came home. In bronze. By way of China. And, oh, he is now 18 feet tall.

    “The unveiling of a two-ton ?Chinese-funded sculpture to honor the German philosopher on the 200th anniversary of his birth brought scads of tourists to Trier, where his life began….

    “On one side, hundreds of flag-waving members of Germany’s fringe Communist Party cheered. On the other ? separated by barricades and riot police ? an eclectic group of Free Tibet, anti-fascist and pro-human rights protesters chanted and blew whistles in a vain effort to drown out the speeches.

    “City officials say they see nothing wrong with the statue’s unusual path to Trier’s downtown. The statue, Trier Mayor Wolfram Leibe insisted Saturday, is not about the “glorification” of Marx. Instead, he told the large crowd that had assembled under a cloudless blue sky, it is meant to spark conversation ? and strengthen international bonds.

    “”It’s a gesture of friendship,” he said….

    “At the unveiling’s critical moment, Chinese and German officials together pulled back a red drape to reveal a rendering of Marx in full stride ? a book clutched beneath his left arm, his right gently pressed to his signature frock coat.”

  8. The good news: a Buddha statue in Japan is hollow, and filled with ancient artifacts and scrolls. We’re not specifically saying that the scrolls contain directions to buried treasure, but it can’t be ruled out.

    The bad news: There’s no indication that anyone is going to smash up the statue so they can read the scrolls and find the treasure.

    Where is Indiana Jones when you need him? Maybe Lara Croft is available?

  9. Buying products from a literal slave nation and working on a vehicle:

    “What are you a protectionist, this is free markets, *wrench snaps. Fuck, better get the breaker bar to free it. *breaker snaps. Fuck, going to have to go back back to harbor freight and pick up more tools. Have you seen the deals at harbor? So cheap.

    1. I always love economically ignorant posts like this. If Chinese products really are that bad, then the market will quickly take care of them. But it seems that most people appreciate the value they provide for the price, so too bad for you.

  10. China institutes a tariff against the US. We institute a tariff against them as leverage to open their markets to US goods. Trump is a protectionist. Doesn’t follow.

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  14. We should buy from them what they’re good at; we should sell to them what we’re good at,” says Gary Cohn


    Let me correct that for you

    “We should buy from them whatever they have strategically subsidized and sell to them what they strategically allow us to”

    That way they can weaken us in general, and in particularly in goods of military interest. Because OF COURSE there is no reason to believe they would use trade to gain military advantage.

    And of course, why in the world would we see (or they) see STEEL and ALUMINUM as fundamental goods of military supply interest.

    Is it actually necessary for libertarian economists to be completely stupid and ignorant of how that discipline fits into the wider world?

  15. If the tariffs are a negotiating tool to ensure 2 way open/free trade that would be fine. Unfortunately it appears these are turning into import quotas just another bad form of tariffs.

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