Trump's Tariffs Hurt American Freedom and Prosperity

Each tariff the president imposes is a tax on Americans.


The air always swirls with popular myths that, when repeated constantly, are taken by some to be indisputably true. One such myth today is that President Donald Trump is unique among presidents in standing up firmly to the Chinese and other foreigners to stop them from harming us economically with their import restrictions, export subsidies, and illegal immigration. According to that theory, the tariffs he uses to counter these foreign practices are to our benefit. As such, we should purportedly welcome them with gratitude.

Trump is indeed unique among modern presidents in his eagerness to use tariffs. But his vaunted "toughness" in using them is nothing for us Americans to applaud: We should instead condemn their use. Trump's so-called standing up to foreigners is more like stomping on Americans' freedom and prosperity.

The fundamental reality most people forget is that when foreign governments artificially make their exports to the United States more abundant and less expensive, we're the winners. We Americans reap the gains. Foreign consumers and taxpayers are the poor souls who predominantly suffer the burden. While some U.S. producers admittedly suffer from this competition, the truth is that when Trump bargains hard to stop other governments from subsidizing their exports, he inflicts more harm on his fellow Americans overall, in the form of higher prices and reduced supplies. If successful, his bargaining may actually help foreign consumers and American taxpayers. Unfortunately, it's more likely that foreign governments won't cave and may instead retaliate. Then we'll all end up with higher tariffs.

Each tariff Trump imposes is a tax on Americans. This is true regardless of why he claims he does it. It's true when he wants to protect his friends in the steel industry against foreign competition. It's true when he does it in the name of telling the Chinese government how to rule China or not to steal our intellectual property. It's true when he uses tariffs to force the Mexican government to stop immigrants from entering Mexico through its southern border—something he fails to do for the United States. And it's true when he uses tariffs as leverage to get a "better" trade deal with Canada and Mexico or with the Europeans.

Leaving aside for now the fact that this has failed repeatedly as a strategy to force countries into making concessions they weren't willing to make in the first place, we must face the truth that these tariffs are a penalty Trump forces on those of us who choose to buy imports. This is obvious to anyone who reads through the comments submitted to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative on proposed new duties on Americans who import from China. You'll read heartbreaking stories like this: "We are concerned that this tariff could single handedly reverse over half a century struggling through the journey to support our large family and our many loyal employees." Or this: "Margins in our sector are already very thin, and the proposed incremental duty would result in us shutting down the business."

These duties that our self-proclaimed "Tariff Man" president is so proud of will have long-lasting consequences—none of which are good. American natural gas companies selling in China, for instance, have not only seen their market diminish steadily since the beginning of the trade war, but it's now at risk of disappearing completely if trade negotiations collapse.

Farmers, obviously, have taken a serious hit thanks to multi-front trade wars—a hit that the president attempts to soften with billions of dollars in subsidies paid for through higher taxes on other Americans.

Automakers have operated in a state of uncertainty, not knowing when the next large tax hikes on auto parts or automobiles will materialize. They also live with the uncertainty of whether and when they may be subjected to stricter and counterproductive rules of origin through the new NAFTA.

On the other hand, if you define "standing up" for Americans as imposing a massive tax increase on us, then, yes, the president is indeed standing up for us. According to Bryan Riley at the National Taxpayers Union, the potential 2019 inflation-adjusted tax burden of the Trump tariffs at our current import level is the biggest tax increase Americans have been subjected to since World War II.

Maybe it's time for the president to take a seat.


NEXT: Senators Rand Paul and Ron Wyden Pitch New Limitations on Presidential Emergency Powers

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    1. I strongly recommend reading his book “The Art of the Deal” I read it many years ago – and I think what he is doing with tariffs is using it as a negotiation technique to get the “other side” to yield to his (our) wants and needs…

    2. In every foreign good, especially goods from the middle east and Red China, there are costs not reflected in the price – the cost of the U.S military protecting access and transit of the goods, and offsetting the advances in Red Chinese military and oppression technology made possible by trade with the west.

      The U.S. spends trillion$ ostensibly to keep the peace in the middle east and Asia so the “cheap” oil and cheap Red Chinese goods can keep flowing to the U.S. Every income tax payer subsidizes it.

      It’s time to end or reduce the income tax and let tarriffs pay for the U.S. military’s foreign operations. If the consumers realized exactly how expensive those foreign goods actually are and had to pay the true cost, they’d make better purchasing decisions.

      There’s no such thing as free trade with unfree nations. I wonder if one could buy an uncensored version of Reason Magazine in Bejing? Or even get digital access to Reason in Red China.

      1. Agree, Bruce. Not only what you said, but a number of heavy industries are vital to national security. Do we really want to rely on the Chinese for all of our steel and aluminum. Do we really want to give up the capability to build aircraft carriers domestically and outsource the construction to China or Malaysia? There is a lot more to consider than just how cheaply Americans can buy stuff at WalMart.

  1. Using unique in the first 2 paragraphs? What, did a memo come down to stop overusing “unprecedented “

  2. The fundamental reality most people forget is that when foreign governments artificially make their exports to the United States more abundant and less expensive, we’re the winners.

    Nothing more libertarian than governments artificially effecting markets. Lucky I didn’t forget this like everyone else, cuz I’m learning it for the first time. Fundamentally. And, like, totally. #problematic

    1. “Nothing more libertarian than governments artificially effecting markets. ”

      When the government taxes imports, that’s “artificially effecting markets”.

      When it taxes domestic *labor*, it’s a completely *natural* effect on the market, because Corporate Profits Uber Alles.

    2. Nothing more libertarian than governments artificially effecting markets.

      If foreign governments want to make their nation poorer by subsidizing exports to the US so we get cheaper goods, why should we complain about it?

      Sure if I was a citizen of that foreign country I would vote against those subsidies. But I don’t get a vote in that.

      “Oh no, foreign governments might put all the domestic widget makers out of business and we can’t have that!” SO WHAT?

      1. Until it’s a widget we have to have made domestically by people whose loyalty we can vet, or they get to invade unopposed…. because they’ve embedded microcode that won’t let the weapons fire.

  3. And yet… Mexico blinked.

    1. Fake news. They already agreed to everything before the tariffs. Didn’t you see all those news stories months ago about how Trump already accomplished this?

      1. Yeah, I’m sure it was just coincidence that they sent 6000 troops to their southern border the day before the tariff was to take effect.

        1. They were actually gonna send 10 thousand troops before this!

          1. They were going to send a million!

            But they got miffed by Trump threatening tariffs, so now they’re only going to send 6000.

            Orange Man Ruined Everything!

  4. While some U.S. producers admittedly suffer from this competition, the truth is that when Trump bargains hard to stop other governments from subsidizing their exports, he inflicts more harm on his fellow Americans overall, in the form of higher prices and reduced supplies.

    Doesn’t Trump know that after other governments use free market ideals to subsidize their products and put dirty capitalist American companies out of business they will never use that as leverage against the free market after they’ve killed all competition? Fucking orange man.

  5. 8 “Tariffs are bad y’all” stories per day

    1. 0 “Payroll taxes and income taxes are bad y’all” stories per day.

      It’s almost as if Reason is more concerned about corporate profits than free markets.

      1. +100

  6. Truth is nobody really knows what the outcome will be. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar

    1. Outcome will be that American consumers, workers, and taxpayers will take in in the ass, and hard! Always, every day! Especially under Der TrumpfenFuhrer!

      1. Like I said…..liar

  7. Trump’s tariffs advance American freedom and prosperity. That’s the intent anyway and it seems to be working.

  8. Here is Tyler Cowen (of all people) Bloomberg View, destroying Reason globalists on the falling of Hong Kong:
    “Thus is revealed a deeper lesson still: Freedom is not merely the ability to buy and sell goods at minimum regulation and a low tax rate, variables that are readily picked up by economic freedom indices. Freedom is also about the narratives people live by and the kind of future they imagine for themselves. Both of these are greatly affected by the legitimacy and durability of their political institutions”

    In other words, the freedom indices don’t give a shit about Maoist China.

  9. Folks, look at the national debt and the unfunded liabilities; there is no “American prosperity”, it’s a sham. We are screwing over future generations and/or lenders, and the fact that we can get away with that kind of fraud doesn’t make it OK.

    1. +10000

    2. “There is no “American prosperity”, it’s a sham.”

      Compared to where, asshole? Feel free to go to any other more prosperous country. Take LC with you.

  10. Funny history does not teach that this county was founded with tariffs, till 1913 when they conned the sheep to pass income taxes on the 1%, Then WW1 came and they temporally imposed taxes on the sheep , The constitution say no state shall any money except gold or silver, see article 1 Section 10 , seem that fed was not meant to issue money, We are they sheep!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. +100

  11. Pay no attention to that Communist Party Manifesto income tax behind the curtain… Believe that there were no roads before 1913.

    1. Actually, paved roads were just beginning to come back into style at that time, having long been neglected due to the public’s preference for rail travel. The rising popularity of bicycles, followed by the introduction of automobiles, created an increased demand for well-maintained roads at the turn of the 20th century.

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