Block in NY Times: Trump’s Tariffs a “Fake Fix”

By: Ryan McMaken

In today’s New York Times, Walter Block employs some excellently Rothbardian logic in exposing just how absurd is the argument that protectionism increases wealth. In this case, Block notes that if protectionism helps to increase the living standards of people in American states who import from other states, then New York would surely benefit from slapping tariffs on imports from Iowa:

As an illustration, assume Mr. Trump is the governor of New York. He is devoted to making the Empire State “great again.” Right now, both New Yorkers and Iowans raise pigs — but Iowa produces far more than New York. So Governor Trump sets up a protective tariff against the importation of Iowa-raised pork. Will this make New York great again?

Hardly. There is a very good reason the Empire State does not produce a huge amount of this product: economic efficiency, the true path toward economic greatness. Of course, pork product jobs will increase in New York thanks to the Trump tariffs. But this is the way to ruin the state’s economy.

Surely, New Yorkers would be far better off continuing to produce goods and services in which they have a comparative advantage (Broadway shows, dairy products, financial services, jewelry, maybe even newspapers) and trading them for pork, rather than trying to grow more of it locally. Ditto for the Iowans. They, too, would be well advised to stick to what they do best and trade for what they want.

There are good reasons the United States is such a prosperous country, one of which is this: The country is a gigantic free-trade zone among the states. Yes, every once in a while a state legislature will get in the way. Wisconsin may try to reduce the importation of wine from California. But this only interferes with the specialization and the division of labor that maximizes output. Happily, the Supreme Court has typically given the back of its collective hand to all such attempted interferences with interstate economic freedom. … Maybe we should be happy that the president hasn’t yet kicked Hawaii out of the union and imposed a tariff on pineapples to strengthen the weak pineapple industry in other states. Absurd, yes, but hardly less bizarre than thinking tariffs on foreign goods will make the American economy great again.

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