Trump shocked and disturbed the stock market and his own aides with the announcement of new tariffs on steel and aluminum on Thursday, which may well spark a wider trade war, but on Friday he said he was cool with that, that trade wars are a good thing “easy to win.”
When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win. Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore-we win big. It’s easy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 2, 2018
We should bear in mind how often he has claimed that achieving some goal would be very easy once he’s president, none of which he’s managed to do and some of which he’s made considerably worse. Like the debt. He claimed he would not only eliminate the federal budget deficit, he would pay off the entire federal debt in 8 years, a claim that any sentient being could only find laughable. In reality, he’s made it considerably worse, pushing policies and signing them into law that will add hundreds of billions of dollars per year to the deficit and thus, obviously, to the cumulative debt burden.It’s not “easy to win” a trade war. No one actually wins them. Trump claims he’s protecting the American steel industry, but protectionism hurts those workers whose jobs rely on using the steel we import by raising the cost of it. The steel industry is made up of 140,000 workers; businesses that rely on steel imports employ about 6.5 million people. This is precisely the sort of “picking winners and losers” that conservatives have long been against.
Many liberals argue for protectionism as well, but many of them have suddenly transformed into free traders in order to oppose Trump, just as many Republicans have suddenly turned protectionist because he prefers those policies. Basic tribalism at work. But I’ve always been in favor of well-written free trade deals because they’re good economically. GATT and NAFTA are both flawed, to be sure, and they need to be renegotiated. But tariffs end up helping no one in the end.