Trump Comes to Bury Tariffs, Not Praise Them

Andrew Cullen

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L-a-a-a-a-dies and gentlemen, your attention please. I am about to attempt a death-defying stunt THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER ATTEMPTED BEFORE. I am going to defend Donald Trump’s tariff policy.

Are you ready? (Cracks knuckles.) As you know, tariffs are bad. All the finest economists say so. BUT. There’s one generally tolerated exception to this rule: If another country has indefensibly high tariffs, and the sole purpose of your tariff is to cause them enough pain to force them to reduce their tariffs, then it’s OK. If you’re successful, then everyone’s tariffs go down and the world is better off.

But this can take a while, and in the meantime your own people can suffer. So today President Trump announced a plan to help our farmers who are hurt by the tariffs we imposed on China. The general reaction to this was mockery:

But if the purpose of the tariffs is to force China to reduce its tariffs; and if we know this will take a while; and if we know that domestic resistance to sustained economic pain is our biggest obstacle to seeing this through—then it makes sense to stand tough on the tariffs but assuage domestic resistance with random payouts here and there. And that’s what Trump is doing.

If you think the tariff war is dumb in the first place, then the payoff to farmers is dumb on top of dumb. But if you support the tariff war as a way of getting China to open its economy more, than the payoff to American farmers makes perfect sense. It’s just a way of bribing people to allow a good but painful policy to run its course.

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And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

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