Trump’s tariff plans would be disastrous for America and the world

You may think his worst ideas won’t get far. Sadly, on trade he has been singularly influential

Trump pointing with his right arm in the air
image: anthony gerace

Joe biden’s approval rating is languishing and Donald Trump is cruising to the Republican presidential nomination, so it is wise to consider what another Trump term might bring. Though much about Mr Trump’s policy agenda is chaotic, in one area he is crystal clear: he wants to raise tariffs. A lot. He has proposed slapping a 10% tariff on all imported goods, thereby trebling the country’s average and taking American trade protectionism back to its mid-20th-century heyday.

This is not idle talk. Mr Trump’s lieutenants want to double down on the bad bets they placed in his presidency. Robert Lighthizer, Mr Trump’s chief trade negotiator, has proposed a universal tariff that would be as high as is necessary to eliminate the country’s trade deficit. Peter Navarro, a prickly adviser in Mr Trump’s White House, has called for total reciprocity: if any country has high tariffs on specific American products, Mr Trump should match them. Economic populists, meanwhile, are trying to sell Americans on the merits of all this. On October 28th the Wall Street Journal published an essay by one arguing “Why Trump is right about tariffs”. In fact, the policy would not only fail to achieve its goals, it would also inflict grievous harm on America and the world economy.