Toughest on the Poor: America's Flawed Tariff System


The Bush administration’s decision last March to impose tariffs of 8-30 percent on steel has been called everything from hypocrisy and stupidity to Machiavellian political brilliance. The reaction has been a remarkable demonstration of the strength of free-trade opinion in the United States -- but it has also been a bit puzzling.

The steel tariffs, even if one believes they are bad policy, are just temporary aberrations from the norm; they will be lifted in a couple of years. But for dozens of other products -- sneakers, spoons, bicycles, underwear, suitcases, drinking glasses, T-shirts, plates, and more -- tariffs of 8-30 percent are neither aberrant nor temporary. In fact, they are normal and permanent parts of U.S. trade policy. Barring a deliberate change in policy, they will never be lifted -- and no one seems to care.

The reason is not simply that people care more about steel

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