This Wall Street Journal op-ed, headlined, “I Support Trump’s Tariffs But Need an Exemption,” has come in for some Twitter ridicule. But there’s nothing self-contradictory or in principle absurd about Robert Wetherbee’s argument. He thinks steel tariffs will foster a thriving steel industry, but that in some cases exemptions would better serve that goal.
What is absurd is to expect the federal government to be able to run the kind of fine-tuned industrial policy that Wetherbee wants. If we decide we want such a policy, we are much more likely to get a patchwork of tariffs that don’t serve the goal particularly well, and don’t promote the national interest, but are responsive to interest-group politics — which is what we have.