Protectionism: Trump’s Tariff-ic Attack on Your Wallet

Willis C. Hawley (left) and Reed Smoot in April 1929, shortly before the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act passed the House of Representatives. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Thomas L. Knapp…….

On January 22, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer fired the first shots of the Trump administration’s 2018 trade agenda: Tariffs of 30% on imported solar panels, and tariffs starting at 20% on imported residential washing machines. In the name of “protecting” jobs — “America First!” — the administration is dead-set on making you poorer.

Yes, the tariffs may benefit a few people (stockholders and employees of American solar panel and washing machine makers), if foreign governments  don’t retaliate in kind and then some with their own tariff schemes. That’s a big if.

For everyone else, the effect is very simple: It will now cost you more to do your laundry, or to abandon expensive electricity for cheap electricity, than it otherwise would have. And since you’ll be spending more money on those things, you’ll have less left over to spend on other things, including American goods and services.

Writers on on economics, from Frederic Bastiat to  Henry Hazlitt, have emphasized looking at policies not just for their intended effects but for unintended ones. That is, not just for the “seen,” but also “the unseen.”

In this case, the “seen” is that workers at a few American companies may remain working and even get raises instead of being laid off; and that stockholders in those companies may see the value of their shares rise, and perhaps collect dividends, instead of taking losses when they sell their shares.

The “unseen?”

The restaurant staff who lose hours, or even their jobs, because you aren’t eating out as much.

The makers of manufactured goods that you didn’t buy because that washing machine or solar panel cost more than you counted on.

The mechanic who missed out on overtime because you put off that brake job (hopefully you won’t have an accident!) … oh, and that meant he had to cancel a planned vacation. Sorry about those empty rooms and your lost hours, hotel workers.

Tariffs help a few people visibly and in a big way, while harming a lot of people far less visibly and far less noticeably. Politicians typically love policies like that because such policies allow them to rack up votes and campaign contributions from some constituencies without enraging others. Donald Trump wasn’t supposed to be a typical politician, though.

David Hannum was right: There’s a sucker born every minute. On tariffs, is Donald Trump the sucker, or is it his supporters who are getting conned? My guess: Both.


Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.

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3 thoughts on “Protectionism: Trump’s Tariff-ic Attack on Your Wallet

  1. It was clear to anyone who cared to do a little investigating that Delusional Donald never in his entire life had any interest in helping anyone himself and his rich buddies. Even his tax plan works only for those who make $75,000 or more. What percentage of this country’s population fall into that category? He is destroying this country, but as with people destroying the environment with trash and pollution, no one will notice until they are hit personally with the effects. Sad, isn’t it.

  2. I for one dam sure make more than 75 k
    As far as a concern for others it has only been our kids and family. Why should I give a shit less for others that make low income ? If you lack education then plan on ending up being on the poor side of life. Seen many men educated taking an ass whipping on child support. Guess I was just lucky and raised in the upper class and it dam sure that you got the education needed to land good pay. I do feel for the low income people but it is only there own fault. Just what do they hope Trump or any other president could do to help them ? After 44 years married to same hot country gal guess I picked the right one.

    1. I am not surprised that you have no clue about the realities of living in this country. Many people lost their careers because companies outsourced to Mexico and laid off people close to retirement age. Those same people were either overqualified or underqualified for other jobs – whatever you care to call age discrimination. There are pockets of poverty in numerous places in this country, including native American populations, where it is extremely difficult to get more than a high school education – if that – but from your throne, you obviously never cared to notice or give a damn. Your level of empathy is on par with Cadet Bone Spurs who obviously is your hero. Yes, many men are stupid, and frankly, this world would be much better with fewer men with attitudes such as yours.

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