Home Economics It Ain't China That Pays The American Tariffs

It Ain’t China That Pays The American Tariffs



Donald Trump expended much effort attempting to insist that it was China paying all those import tariffs that he imposed upon imports into the US. Everyone else kept shouting that it was Americans who paid import tariffs because they were and are taxes upon the things that Americans buy.

Everyone else was right.

Now, it is theoretically possible that tariffs fall upon producers. It could be that imports fall by a lot as a result of tariffs and therefore it’s those who make the things that get stiffed. Lost profit through not making sales and all that. Or even price cutting to the bone to keep the sales under that new layer of taxation.

The thing is this is an empirical question. What’s the elasticity of demand with respect to price for the goods under discussion? Depends upon the goods:

American consumers are bearing nearly 93 percent of the costs of the tariffs applied to Chinese goods, according to a new report from Moody’s Investors Service. Just 7.6 percent of the added costs of the tariffs are being absorbed by China, the investment firm found.

And it gets worse. When China responded to Trump’s tariffs by slapping new tariffs on many American goods, American firms paid a significant price. That’s because “U.S. exporters, unlike China’s exporters, lowered by roughly 50 percent the prices of goods affected by foreign retaliatory tariffs, carrying a much higher cost burden than foreign importers of goods under U.S. tariffs,” writes Dima Cvetkova, an associate analyst at Moody’s and author of the report.

Isn’t that fun? The elastgicity of demand with respect to price is greater fror US exports to China than it is for Chinese exports to hte US. Therefore, even if this idea that producers can carry the costs of tariffs is true we find out that the US still comes off worst in a trade war with China.

So, us classical liberals are right again and Peter Navarro is an economic poopyhead.

And it gets worse again. Because as is usual in these sorts of calculations they’re only looking at the prices of goods which are subject to the tariffs. They’re not looking at the domestic production consumed in place of tariffed goods.

Think on it for a moment. Say there’s a tariff on Chinese steel. OK, so Chinese steel costs more for Americans and we can go work out how much by. But this also allows – in fact is the point of the exercise – all American steel makers to raise their prices because that Chinese competition is knee capped. American consumers now lose out by that higher cost of domestic steel as well.

And, yeah, Navarro, poopyhead, well, we did say so right at the start, didn’t we?



  1. Never could understand this glaring blind spot in Trump’s policies. A weak argument was made that the tariffs, in the first instance, would negatively impact Chinese industry and drive the Chinese to negotiate a deal less onerous to the US (albeit at some immediate cost to American consumers). As any kind of sustained position it simply is backwards. One would think Trump, in his days as a developer, had seen the harmful impact of tariffs, particularly on basic goods.

  2. Not disputing the main point, but a couple of things struck me as odd or questionable, They say “American consumers are bearing nearly 93 percent of the costs”. Nearly 93 percent? That seemed an odd description, wouldn’t “over 90 percent” be more natural? Or “over 92%”? Just seems like they’re stretching the numbers to support their argument, which doesn’t inspire confidence..

    Second, they claim that “U.S. exporters… lowered by roughly 50 percent the prices of goods”. That’s hard to imagine, they had over a 100% mark-up and could cut prices in half and still be profitable? And given their number stretch above, I wonder what “roughly 50 percent” really is.

    Reminds me of a lot of the arguments about global warming, if you look under the covers you find a lot of evidence that was discredited but still being circulated.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


in British English
expunct (ɪkˈspʌŋkt)
VERB (transitive)
1. to delete or erase; blot out; obliterate
2. to wipe out or destroy

Support Us

Recent posts

American Hyperconsumerism Is Killing Fewer People!

This report does not say what the Guardian headline writers think it does: Three Americans create enough carbon emissions to kill one person, study finds The...

Contracts Often Lag New Revenue Streams

I've been - vaguely and not with any great interest - anticipating a story like this: Scarlett Johansson sues Walt Disney over Marvel’s Black Widow...

Richard Murphy Rediscovers Monetarism

We have a delightful example of how Richard Murphy simply doesn't understand the basic nuts and bolts of the economics he wants to impose...

Vox Is Missing The Point About Having A Constitution

Not that we should be all that surprised by this from the progressives at Vox. No government- well, no one not controlled by...

So Let’s Have An Elitist Technocracy Instead!

There's been a certain amount - OK, a lot - of squealing in the US about how democracy is the ultimate value and we...

Recent comments