Saturday, March 3, 2018

When Governments Enforce Limits to Growth

Why is it so difficult to understand, how protectionism and favoritism can negatively impact economic outcomes? Nevertheless, the latest example is obvious to observers far and wide, at least beyond the confines of the White House. Which makes it all the more frustrating, that 10 percent tariffs on imported aluminum and 25 percent on imported steel, will actually be implemented. As Gregory Mankiw noted, Trump even managed to unite a polarized country: "How often do Jeffrey Sachs and the Wall Street Journal agree?" And Mickey Levy of E21 wrote:
The economic effects of these tariffs on the macroeconomic environment will depend critically on whether they damage business and household confidence...the danger is if these tariffs adversely jar confidence - perhaps fueled by foreign retaliation - heightened uncertainties would lead businesses to tone back their expansion plans and the trajectory of consumer spending would be softer.
Supposedly the tariffs would be "helpful" for reasons of national security. But where do the majority of these imports come from? James Pethokoukis explains:
That reasoning is pretty much ridiculous, unless the Pentagon has given Trump reason to think it's possible that the 1st Armored Division might one day be racing toward Toronto, or Army Rangers parachuting into Rio de Janeiro. The top two suppliers of steel imports to the U.S. are Canada and Brazil.
He adds, in spite of a report from the Commerce Department that metals imports eroded weapon making ability, the Defense Department only needs 3 percent of total U.S. steel, or 70% of the U.S. market. And the economic argument is at least as bad, since Trump is possibly hurting the many, just to help the few, by increasing the price of "commodities used to make a vast array of products for businesses and consumers."

According to Politico, Trump's tariff decision spurred retaliatory threats from close allies as well. Both Australia and China expressed concerns that other countries would follow the U.S. lead, and retaliate. Indeed, the EU could target $3.5 billion of U.S. imports at the outset.

It's astonishing no one could convince Donald Trump that tariffs are generally a bad deal for everyone concerned, instead of making a stronger economy more likely. Of course, other limits to growth due to political favoritism have been in place for well over a century - even if these limits don't have obvious implications re employment outcomes. Presently, the degree to which knowledge use limits affect employment potential, no one really knows.

Washington's focus on supposedly retrievable twentieth century jobs is off the mark. Especially since technology and automation impel us to reconsider, what work and wealth creation in the 21st century is all about. However, it's difficult to start a dialogue about this reality, when existing wealth is being jeopardized by an insistent focus on the past. Hopefully in the years to come, this unfortunate circumstance can be changed.

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