The Corner

Economy & Business

A Left-Winger Defends Trump’s Tariffs

“Don’t Worry About Trump’s Tariffs,” Josh Bivens advises us in the New York Times. His case:

1) Some of the criticisms of the tariffs are “overblown.” For example, they’re not going to lead to a recession. I have read, probably, 200 articles about the tariffs over the last week, and have not yet run into any prediction that they will cause a recession. But I’m willing to stipulate that some people are making hyperbolic criticisms, and that, as Bivens writes, “the proposed tariffs won’t end the world.” (Hooray?) Both points are compatible with the tariffs’ being a very bad idea.

2) The tariffs, Bivens writes, are “temporary relief for specific sectors (steel and aluminum) facing a specific problem (global excess production capacity, propped up by foreign governmental subsidies).” Actually, Trump says that the tariffs will last a long time, and they are not targeted at countries that subsidize their industries. They apply to all countries regardless of how they behave. (And yes, I’m repeating myself on this point.)

3) We make other countries protect intellectual property for the benefit of the software and pharmaceutical industries, Bivens notes, so why not depart from free-trade principles to help the aluminum and steel industries? To the extent this argument is at all successful, though, it’s an argument for doing less to help the software and pharmaceutical industries. It does nothing to answer the specific objections raised against steel and aluminum tariffs, such as that they damage the many industries that use steel and aluminum.

4) The question we should ask in evaluating an economic policy, Bivens concludes, is: “Is it good for the bottom 90 percent of American workers and the families they help support?” You might think that an attempt to defend the tariffs would offer some reason, any reason at all, to think that the answer is yes. But Bivens just leaves the question out there without even attempting to make the case that the tariffs actually are good for the vast majority of Americans. I suspect there’s a good reason for that omission.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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