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Will President Trump’s tariffs tank the economy?

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From the pages of In Business magazine.

Welcome to "Political Posturing," featuring opposing views on current issues important to Wisconsin's business community. In this column, Wisconsin Business Alliance Board President Brad Werntz and conservative columnist David Blaska offer their opinions from the left and the right, respectively.

Yes, but it’s easy come, easy go in Trump’s world.

By Brad Werntz

Trumpian habits die hard, so as usual the truly important announcement was made on Twitter: “Trade wars are good and easy to win,” the president tweeted. And thus, it was so. After all, he is the sun, the moon, and the evening star. Whatever he says is as it will be, and whatever he tweets — well, that’s gospel written into a stone tablet.

No, really, that last part is absolutely true.

Sometimes, the president tries to delete tweets because he’s an atrocious speller or because he makes up words. For example, “Covfefe” entered the American lexicon overnight, and while no one knows what it means, everyone knows what it is. Tweets are sometimes deleted, but they are never, ever gone.

So about that tweet in question: “Trade wars are good, and easy to win.” In my line of work, “easy” is always someone else’s job, as in: “Oh yeah, that would be easy. We can have [someone else] whip that right up.” In the president’s case, it’s safe to say that wars are always easy and someone else’s job.

In fact, my industry stands at the front line of this particular battlefront. The Outdoor Industry Association estimates that $200 hiking boots, most of which are now made in China, could cost up to $360 tomorrow if these tariffs go through, but that’s no problem. We’ll all just buy lower-quality footwear and maybe get bone spurs. If the president can’t feel our pain, we may as well feel his.

Tariffs protect American jobs, right? Not quite. Last time there was a tariff on steel — in 2002, under the most recent Bush administration — U.S. factories couldn’t meet demand and steel prices soared. Bear in mind that U.S. steel-consuming manufacturers dwarf the U.S. steel industry, with more than 6.5 million workers, and Bush’s tariffs ultimately cost 200,000 workers in the manufacturing industry their jobs. The steel industry, by contrast, employs about 140,000 workers. So by all means, let’s have a trade war. Will the president’s tariffs tank the economy? Probably, but don’t worry. It will be easy.

Editor’s note: There is still a chance to avoid the tariffs on steel and aluminum, as China has signaled its willingness to negotiate with U.S. trade representatives.

Brad Werntz is a small business owner in Madison.

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