President Trump said last week that he intends to use powers granted him by Congress to impose import duties on steel and aluminum. That was all it took for the press to become free traders. Gloom and doom are everywhere, as reporters gleefully tell us how our trading partners are planning to retaliate and how Trump’s tariffs will damage the economy. I don’t recall a similar reaction when it was Democrats who were the leading protectionists.
I am anti-protectionism, but I am also anti-hysteria. It’s not as though tariffs are an unknown phenomenon. As many have pointed out, President George W. Bush imposed tariffs of up to 30% on steel in 2002. They remained in effect for more than a year. And Ronald Reagan restricted imports of steel in 1984, and later imposed a 100% tariff on some Japanese electronic products. Somehow the republic survived.