Clark's take on trade wars and tariffs

No doubt you’ve heard about all the controversy in D.C. over the taxes that President Trump wants on imported steel and aluminum.

The talk of tariffs is the biggest story in financial markets the world over, too.

As a dyed in the wool advocate of free trade, I have a different perspective I’d like to share with you.

Tariffs will distort our economy

I am unalterably an ardent free trader, and that’s a stance that is not popular right now in United States. But I have always believed companies and countries should produce what they are best at.

The president is proposing tariffs on trading partners, not because they’ve played unfairly, but because we have not been as efficient as the rest of the world in producing steel and aluminum.

Now, let me just say this: We do other things exceedingly well — think of the manufacturing of aircraft and automobiles. Think of the agricultural practices we have that produce food run with an efficiency that’s marveled at all over the world — not to mention that we remain virtually unchallenged in anything to do with IT, computers and the Internet!

If you need proof of that last part, just look at the fact that the most valuable companies in the world — like Apple, Facebook and Google — are all American companies.

The danger in saying “We’re not efficient in steel or aluminum, so we’ll punish others who are…” is that you never know the response you’ll get from those others, which could lead to the increase in consumer prices we’ll see across a variety of industries.

President Trump talks in strong terms about putting these tariffs in place. We’re still expecting to learn the details of them later this week. As they’re enacted, we’ll see if he softens his stance over time.

Listen to Clark discuss the tariff issue on The Clark Howard Show

This much is sure: The controversy around tariffs and trade wars is dividing us. Unfortunately, we as a nation get divided easily these days. Too often the arguments that divide us are not based on fact, but on half-truth.

Ultimately, the greatest danger we’ll face from tariffs is not just the additional cost we’ll have on various goods. That goes without saying. But the true danger is that our allies are more likely to become adversaries as we start to put up roadblocks to them selling things to us under a free-trade system.

That could mean a trade war where other countries retaliate against other industries beyond steel and aluminum — such as agriculture, technology or manufacturing — to punish us for being afraid to compete fair and square. That never ends well.

Government choosing the winners and the losers in trade distorts an economy and makes us poorer.

Of course, the counter-argument here is that some people look at employment through the prism of trade. But what’s overlooked in that argument is how much stuff we sell to other people around the world.

That’s why economics is called the dismal science. Free trade is not a “they win, we lose” scenario. What happens in capitalism is that the most efficient provider of any goods or services eventually emerges.

For example: Why is it that a Sears or Toys R Us is failing at retail?

It’s because others in retail provide a more efficient environment.

Think about Amazon. The e-commerce giant is challenging not just retail but so many fields. So companies either adapt to Amazon or they go extinct. That’s how business works. The companies that innovate and get that blend of quality, price and service in the correct balance win!

It’s very likely that the tariffs issue is not going to go the way that a free-trader like me wants. But from my perspective, I still believe we all benefit when we trade with other nations in a free-trade environment.

That’s because government choosing the winners and the losers in trade distorts an economy and makes us all poorer for it.

If you want to tell me I'm crazy and out of my mind, be sure to post at Clark Stinks and let me know!