New Study Confirms That Tariffs Are Bad

It’s been awhile since I renewed my neoliberal shill membership, so let’s do that today. Over at NBER, a quartet of authors examine evidence from the past half century about the effect of raising and lowering tariffs. Why? They claim it’s because no one has done this before. Lots of economists believe tariffs are bad, but no one’s looked at the empirical evidence to verify this in the real world. “Filling this gap is the chief objective of this paper,” they say.

That sounds great. So what did they find?

In other words, increasing tariffs results in lower GDP and lower productivity, higher unemployment, and no change in the trade deficit. This is exactly the opposite of what Donald Trump wants.

Now, my guess is that his tariffs will have a fairly small effect. For one thing, his tariff increases as a percentage of total trade are barely noticeable, and as a percentage of US GDP they’re microscopic. Still, to the extent they have any effect at all, it’s almost certain to be negative by virtually every measure.

POSTSCRIPT: The authors break down the data in various ways, including separate calculations for developing and advanced economies. The charts above show the overall results, but they’re nearly identical to the results for advanced economies on their own. That makes them suitable as estimates for the effect of tariffs on the US.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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