[Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a three-part series that will analyze the state of mainstream perspectives of the impact of tariffs, as well as delve further into the history of Section 232 and China’s role in the current trade dialogue.]
Consultants internally often pose a question to one another – do you want a client who knows he doesn’t know something, or would you rather have a client who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know?
It turns out that phrase came from the famed economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who actually used it to describe forecasters: “We have two classes of forecasters: Those who don’t know … and those who don’t know they don’t know.”
Most consultants (and forecasters) would likely argue one would rather have the former — it’s better to work with someone who knows he doesn’t know something than one who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.
The same argument applies to trade and tariffs.
The mass media and much of the public has embraced the notion that tariffs are bad and continued “free trade” — with China — is good.
But is it? Does the mainstream press know what it doesn’t know?
We will come to this question shortly — but first, the conventional thinking.
Koch Companies Trade Study
According to a recent Koch Companies study on trade, the U.S. economy will see some very negative impacts on the economy as a result of President Donald Trump’s trade war, including:
- Macroeconomic losses, which project declining GDP of 1.78% and a long-term impact in 2030 of 1.25%
- Household financial losses of $2,357 per household in 2019, which compound to $17,276 in spending power over a 12-year time frame (2018-2030) in the form of lower wages, higher prices and lower investment returns
- Increased unemployment
- Production losses by 2030 modeled as a loss of 1% against the baseline for agricultural and services sectors and a manufacturing production decline of 2.5% from baseline
All of the above appear as reasonable conclusions one might make based on a standard methodology using the GTAP model and database, which ironically was the very same model used by the Department of Commerce to come up with the rationale for imposing Section 232 tariffs in the first place! Other countries have also used the GTAP model to formulate trade policies.
The Koch Companies’ study stands in good company. Multiple additional governmental and pay-to-play studies have come out arguing similarly against tariffs. Here are just a few:
- The Dallas Fed trade study (as in, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas)
- This study from Trade Partnership Worldwide
- The Tax Foundation ran a study
- Even competitor sites to MetalMiner, such as CRU, have modeled the impact of tariffs on the wider economy
So why in the world should we question these studies?
Because the studies don’t tell the whole story.
Media Bias, Not Fake News
Forget about fake news: legitimate studies have confirmed anti-tariff media bias.
A study conducted in 2005 — after the Bush steel tariffs of 2002 — sought to test a prediction that, “newspapers will devote more space to the costs of tariffs than to their benefits…” The study sampled 123 stories on trade from The New York Times and 177 stories from the Wall Street Journal (the stories ran during the Bush steel tariffs of 2002 from Jan. 1 through Sept. 10).
The WSJ also showed a “slant” toward free trade as measured by more sentences criticizing tariffs than supporting them, compared to The New York Times, according to the study methodology.
Not surprisingly, the results showed newspapers covered the “costs” of steel tariffs more than the benefits and the authors concluded the results suggest “that mass media will weaken the power of special‐interest lobbies relative to unorganized interests.”
Simply put, one should expect more anti-tariff media coverage than pro-tariff coverage.
Before we dive further into the studies, let’s re-examine the history of Section 232 and what cases have resulted in presidential trade action.
Part 2 of this series will be published Friday, Feb. 7.