President Trump is expected to introduce extensive tariffs on steel and aluminum imports in the name of “national security.” I’ve written in the past about how the national security concerns are non-existent, as only 3 percent of current U.S. steel production goes to national defense. Experts warn that these tariffs will harm industries in the United States that rely on steel production, as well as risk a trade war the likes of which has not been seen since the creation of the World Trade Organization.
Recent history tells us that steel tariffs are a bad idea—President Bush’s 2001 steel tariff caused steel prices to rise by 30-50 percent and 200,000 Americans in industries that rely on steel production to lose their jobs. Steel producers as a whole currently only employed 147,000 people in 2015. The steel industry is hardly struggling either, as the market value of the five largest steel companies has more than doubled over the past five years.
Yet does Trump appear interested in listening to the concerns of the 6.3 million workers whose industries rely on steel as an input? Based on the “listening session” he held before arriving at the decision to introduce tariffs, apparently not. Trump hosted 15 representatives of the steel and aluminum sectors, but not one representative of, for example, the auto industry.
Doubtless these tariffs will help the steel and aluminum industry. But the economy as a whole will suffer, and more Americans will likely lose their jobs than have their livelihoods protected. Just listening to the interests of two industries seeking special protection is a recipe for bad policy.