Are Tariffs Protectionist?

Certainly, they can be.  And tariffs, for a long time, were intended to protect domestic industry from foreign competition as well as being a major source of income for a nation.  Our own nation was a skilled practitioner of the tariff arts for our first 125+ years and again during the Great Depression and the aftermath.

And that’s the line the Koch brothers are taking with regard to President Donald Trump’s tariff impositions.

The urge to protect ourselves from change has doomed many countries throughout history.  This protectionist mind-set has destroyed countless businesses.

That’s also the line Trump says out loud, often, when he talks about tariffs.  As the old saw goes, though, actions speak louder than words, and it’s useful also to consult the actions Trump has taken vis-à-vis tariffs.  Those actions include the following:

  • offering markedly lower tariffs on all goods and services to Mexico as part of NAFTA renegotiations
  • offering a zero-tariff regime to the G-7
  • offering a zero-tariff, zero-subsidy, zero-non-trade barrier regime to the G-20
  • agreeing in principle to a zero-auto tariff arrangement with the German auto companies, the latter which are pushing their government to push the matter with the EU
  • despite the G-7’s and G-20’s craven refusal even to discuss the matter, getting agreement with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to work toward a zero-tariff, zero-subsidy, zero-non-trade barrier agreement between the EU and the US

Tariffs also are a tool of national policy and have little necessarily to do with protectionism.

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