The Commerce Department has proposed tariffs of up to 20% on Canadian sofwood lumber imports. These tariffs are phrased by the Administration and supporters as “leveling the playing field” and wealth creating measures. Ramiyer, commenting on this blog post by Mark Perry, has a typical
protectionist scarcityist argument:
Plus [the tariff] saves thousands of jobs who can afford to purchase and go out and eat. These people are real workers. Not some people who just throw their opinions or Wall Street Looters or big cheaters as in case of some CEOs.
It is true that some jobs are ‘saved’. But that is only half the story: many jobs are lost, too. Tariffs do not create wealth. They transfer it. Tariffs transfer wealth from consumers to producers and the government (for a graphical representation, see my blog post here). Unlike free trade, no new wealth is created (in fact, tariffs cause wealth to disappear!). The wealth is merely transferred from the consumers and their spending habits to the producers and their spending habits. Therefore, a nation cannot, though tariffs and artificial scarcity, create wealth; it cannot tax itself into prosperity. It can merely redistribute wealth.
What’s interesting about this is, until very recently, the same people arguing for tariffs now understood this. They decry welfare and high corporate taxes for the exact same reason I outlined above for opposing tariffs. I find the hypocrisy nauseating.