Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Trump's Tax Increase

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Trump administration has raised tariffs by $70 billion per year. As Kevin Drum points out, that works out to about $500 for each American household. Tariffs on Chinese goods in particular are regressive, falling most heavily on working folks. I am not a free-trader by nature, but I think you have to recognize that the costs of Trump's trade policy might end up being quite high.

Plus, the Chinese just suspended all imports of US farm products. That's going to hurt a few people.


JustPeachy said...

Maybe not as much as you'd think. I don't know about your part of the country, but here, at least, the Trump administration has coincided with a noticeable increase in halfway-decent employment opportunities for people who don't have master's degrees. My sister, for instance, had spent ten years working lousy night-shift security gigs to make ends meet (and thought she'd be stuck there for life), but last year got offered a really decent office job with reasonable pay and full benefits. She loves it.

We, and quite a lot of the working poor with us, can certainly absorb a bump in the price of Chinese consumer goods, given a good employment scene like we have now. Those things are often negotiable, rather than hard necessities-- for example new clothing like we'd get at Walmart: made in China, mostly. But we only buy our socks and underwear there, so a little price bump... well, it's cringey to have to pay more for those, but we only buy them once a year. We can handle it. The rest of our clothes come from the consignment shops, so are not affected directly or noticeably by tariffs. Similar scenario with a lot of our consumer goods. We never could afford smartphones or TVs or gaming systems (and who has time for that crap anyway?) so if their price goes up... so what? We already live without those things, and not-having them is a net gain in our quality of life.

Tariffs on Chinese imports don't have a big effect on our non-negotiables: groceries, gas, housing, and healthcare. Chinese tariffs on our agricultural products could also benefit us by lowering some food prices, at least until production adjusts. Sucks for farmers, but then, the "poor small family farmer" has been a myth for a long time now. It's harder to feel bad for the suffering thousand-acre subsidized agricultural outfit. About time we slowed down on flooding overseas markets with cheap corn, which has been a disaster for actual small farms everywhere we've shipped it.

I used to be a big proponent of free-market-everything, but I'm mellowing on that with age, and as a member of the working poor who apparently stand to lose most from the tariffs... I'm willing to wait, watch, and see what happens. Right now: doesn't look like a disaster, and may be an overall plus, for us and others in our income bracket.

In Walmart one day, hanging on a clippy display near the peanut butter, I spotted perhaps the most useless, unnecessary waste of fossil fuels ever made: Disney-themed sandwich-crust cutters. I am not kidding. Someone, somewhere, thought it was a good idea to use earth's limited fossil resources to manufacture this thing by the thousands, ship it all the way from China to the US, unload it into a Walmart warehouse, and then truck it out to hundreds of Walmart stores. So that picky children across America could be enticed to eat crustless PB&J in licensed Disney shapes. Whenever China tariffs come up, that is the first thing that leaps to mind... and I nod and think "Free market be damned. 1000% tariff!" Yes, I know it's more complicated than that. But that's what it looks like, on a visceral level.

G. Verloren said...


It may interest you to learn that the plural of "anecdote" is not "statistics".

Also, you might consider reviewing the difference between correlation and causality.

JustPeachy said...


I am familiar with the difference between correlation and causality, but being unable to collect statistics myself, on things that actually matter to me, I'm stuck with other people's statistics, which are mostly measuring things that aren't relevant to me (like the price of iPhones) and often seem rather dishonest, and my own eye-level experience. I'm short, so my eye level probably isn't the same as your eye-level, and we likely notice different things, and won't see eye to eye on it.

But here's the thing: the difference between the official statistics and the lived experience out here in the hinterlands is exactly the sort of thing that decides elections. It's not scientific. But it's very, very important. It doesn't matter if the WaPo or the NYT declare that the economy is going to hell in a handbasket, and the poor are suffering because we "vote against our own interests" (bwahahaha), and tariffs are going to clobber us all silly... if my experience, and the experience of everyone I know in real life, doesn't match up with those reports... at what point should I stop trusting the statistics?