The excellent recent study on trade policy by my colleagues Iain Murray and Ryan Young, “Traders of the Lost Ark: Rediscovering a Moral and Economic Case for Free Trade” has been garnering some much appreciated media attention recently. We scored a nice mention in Politico’s “Morning Money” newsletter on the day of release with some excerpts from the text quoted, and Inside Trade provided a nice introduction with this article:
At a time when most trade coverage involves tariffs (the imposition of, the retaliation against, the impacts of), the Competitive Enterprise Institute is arguing – from its libertarian vantage point – for a world trading regime free of government fetters and making the case for free trade “as a policy that is inherently moral, in addition to being economically sound.”
Our friends over at Reason have also taken notice with Eric Boehm linking to the Murray and Young paper in his examination of the role of tariffs in U.S. history titled “Trump Says Tariffs Helped 'Build America.' He's Missing Some Important Context.”
But tariffs can still be a tool of protectionism. Indeed, explicitly protectionist tariffs were enacted by Congress in 1815 and again in 1828. On both occasions, they imposed economic costs, failed to achieve their policy goals, and fostered political dysfunction that pushed America closer to the Civil War. Another round of protectionist tariffs enacted during the 1930s is now widely credited with worsening and extending the Great Depression.
Pretty much all of Trump's justification for tariffs—ranging from the ridiculous claims about national security to the possibly illegal suggestion that he's using them to gain leverage in trade negotiations—recognize this function of tariffs. That he's lately begun trying to shoehorn some sort of revenue argument into the debate over taxes is either a misdirection or a signal that the president is woefully uninformed about the economic issues at play. Choose for yourself which it is.
The attention hasn’t been limited to print and online sources, either. Co-author Iain Murray went on live with top talk radio host Lars Larson to discuss the study (segment starts approximately 1:30:45).
Iain also joined The Jim Bohannon Show around the same time for a conversation about the future of trade policy.