How tariffs harm the poor

Not long ago I wrote about how tariffs are like minimum-wage laws: they’re both policies based in bad economics, well outside the mainstream of economic thought.

They’re also (and for the same reason) especially bad for the poor. I’ve discussed that with respect to the minimum wage and also to tariffs. Here with more discussion of tariffs’ effects on the poor are Ryan Young and Iain Murray:

The case for free trade is about more than economic efficiency. At heart, free trade is a moral issue. Everyone who wants to make the world better off should be advocating for lower trade barriers around the world. The current administration’s return to pre-industrial trade policies are not just bad politics and bad economics; Trump’s trade policies disproportionately hurt the poor.

Tariffs on agricultural products mean higher food prices. As a proportion of income, the poor spend more on food than their better-off fellows, leaving less left over for other needs, such as transportation and rent. Speaking of which, new steel tariffs mean more expensive cars and buildings. Guess who pays proportionally more for transportation and rent? And so on, for tariffs on thousands of goods that were not in place a year ago.

The principles behind free trade are economically sound and morally right. Economists, who disagree on with each other on most everything else, have almost unanimously favored free trade since the days of Adam Smith.

Economic realities aren’t swayed by rhetoric. It doesn’t matter if you’re William Barber or Donald Trump, you cannot force demand curves to slope upwards to suit your preferred policy.

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

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