When you’re a Republican senator yet find yourself teaming up with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on economic policy, that should be your first sign that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong.
That’s the situation that Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) currently finds himself in. The Missouri Republican recently introduced legislation that would revoke China’s status as a normal trading partner, adopting the position Sanders has taken for many years. This would result in huge increases in tariffs, taxes imposed on imported goods, from China. According to the National Taxpayers Union’s Bryan Riley, the average tax on Chinese imports would go from 11% to 41% under this legislation.
Specific goods, such as toys, would face a 70% tax, while shoes and clothing would face a 59% tax, and computers/cellphones would face a 35% tax. These consumer goods would get vastly more expensive overnight. But isn’t China the one that would have to pay the tariffs?
No: The consensus among essentially all economists is the cost of tariffs is primarily borne by consumers in the country that imposes them and that they are a net negative for the economy.
On the other hand, Hawley argues that “as we face a new age of competition with China, we need an agenda in Washington that will make our working class strong and independent. We can start by revoking the sweetheart deal D.C. elites handed to China 23 years ago — end normal trade relations, put in place strong tariffs, and protect American workers.”
But families are already struggling mightily with inflation. Slapping them with even higher prices is no way to make the working class “strong.” On the contrary, it’s a gut punch to working families at a time they can least afford it.
What’s more, while tariffs protect some workers, they destroy the jobs of others, too. For example, studies show that while former President Donald Trump’s steel tariffs “protected” some jobs in the steel industry, they destroyed more jobs in industries that depend on steel and saw costs go up.
Hawley wants to resurrect that failed approach in pursuit of an economic “decoupling” with China.
Yet to the extent that we do want to reduce our economic dependency on China, there’s a better way to do it. The United States should pursue free trade agreements that reduce or even entirely eliminate barriers to trade with other nations, such as Vietnam and India, that can fill some of the same demand that Chinese imports currently satisfy. And if we want to strengthen our domestic working class, we need to make it easier to start and grow businesses in the areas where we do have an advantage over other countries, not try to block competition to preserve jobs in fields that can be done more efficiently elsewhere.
Hawley would understand all of this if he studied basic economics or even listened to mainstream right-of-center economic advisers. But the “populist” Republican senator would seemingly rather team up with Sanders on economic policy than work with actual fiscal conservatives.
This column originally appeared in the Washington Examiner
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