President Trump's planned 25 percent tariff on steel imports and 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports may provide a temporary boost for those industries, but the tariffs will do tremendous long-term damage to the American and global economies. Tariffs raise the price of, and reduce demand for, imported goods. Tariffs ensure the preferences of politicians, instead of the preferences of consumers, to determine how resources are allocated. This reduces economic efficiency and living standards.
Some justify these economic inefficiencies as being worth it to save American jobs. This ignores how tariffs increase costs of production for industries reliant on imported materials to produce their products. These increased costs lead to job losses in those industries. For example, President Trump's proposed steel tariff could cost nearly 40,000 jobs in the steel-dependent auto manufacturing industry. Tariffs also cause job losses in industries reliant on exports. This is especially true if — as is likely to be the case — other countries respond to President Trump's actions by increasing tariffs on US products.
Many of President Trump's critics do not themselves support true free trade, which is the voluntary exchange of goods and services across borders. Instead, they support the managed (by government) trade of NAFTA and the World Trade Organization (WTO). NAFTA and the WTO promote world government and crony capitalism, not free markets. Any libertarian or free-market conservative who thinks the WTO promotes economic liberty should remember that the WTO once ordered Congress to raise taxes!
Foreign manufacturers may make convenient scapegoats for the problems facing US industry. However, the truth is that most of the problems plaguing American businesses stem from the US government. American businesses are burdened by thousands of federal regulations controlling every aspect of their operations. The tax system also burdens businesses. Until last year's tax reform bill, the US had the highest corporate tax rates in the developed world. The tax reform bill lowered corporate taxes, but the US corporate tax rate is still higher than that of many other developed countries.
The United States not only spends more on military weapons than the combined budgets of the next eight biggest spending countries, but also spends billions subsidizing the defense of developed counties like Germany, Japan, and South Korea. Bringing US troops home from these countries is an excellent place to start reducing spending on militarism.