You’ve probably heard about the tax cuts President Trump signed into effect in 2017, which kicked in last year and lowered the tax bill for about two-thirds of Americans.
But you may not have heard about the tax hikes Trump imposed in 2018, even though they negate a significant portion of the tax cuts Trump crows about regularly.
The tariffs Trump imposed last year on a broad range of imports have generated about $3 billion per month in new taxes, according to new research published by the Centre for Economic Policy Research in London. Trump has said many times that China is paying “billions of dollars” to the United States. But that’s not true. The Trump tariffs “have been almost entirely passed through into domestic prices,” according to the paper by economists at Columbia University, Princeton University and the New York Federal Reserve. That means American producers and consumers are paying the Trump taxes.
“It’s hurting the U.S. economy,” study author David Weinstein of Columbia told Yahoo Finance. “The U.S. economy is a big thing, and it’s not enough to move the economy into a recession. But it matters a lot to consumers of particular types of products.”
A separate study published by UCLA and the National Bureau for Economic Research draws similar conclusions. That study finds the Trump tariffs cost American consumers and producers $68.8 billion per year in higher costs and lost output, with the tariffs paid entirely by Americans. When accounting for retaliatory tariffs levied by trading partners, the net effect is more harmful to Americans living in Republican counties than in Democratic ones, largely because retaliatory tariffs have targeted agricultural products that come from rural areas.
The Trump tax cuts reduced taxes paid by businesses and workers by a total of about $150 billion per year. A full year of the Trump’s tariffs, which went into effect in phases in 2018, would impose new taxes of about $36 billion per year. That reduces the savings from the Trump tax cuts by 24%.
The CEPR paper identified another $1.4 billion per month in “deadweight costs,” or lost economic output, caused by the Trump tariffs. The higher prices for thousands of items have pushed manufacturing costs 1 percentage point higher than they’d otherwise be without the new tariffs. So overall, the tariffs are taking $4.4 billion per month out of the private-sector economy, or roughly $53 billion on an annualized basis.
The Trump tariffs include new duties on imported washing machines, solar panels, steel, aluminum, and many finished products from China. All told, Trump imposed new tariffs on about $283 billion worth of imports. He has threatened additional tariffs on Chinese imports, and on imported autos and auto parts from many countries.
Negotiating with China
Trump officials have been negotiating a trade deal with China that could preclude the additional tariffs Trump has threatened there. But tariffs already in place on about $250 billion worth of Chinese imports could remain, even if there is a deal.
Trump has used the China tariffs as a negotiating tool, claiming they’ve hurt China’s economy and created an incentive to bargain. And while Chinese exporters aren’t paying the tariffs, they are losing some business as a result of them. The CEPR paper estimates that the Trump tariffs are causing U.S. companies to redirect about $165 billion worth of trade per year, which means they’re moving parts of their supply chain away from countries facing punitive tariffs. Companies that used to import from China, for example, may now be getting more components from Vietnam, India or other countries able to supply them.
In a $20 trillion economy, the tariffs amount to a modest tax, overall. But they can be onerous in pockets of the economy. Early last year, for instance, Trump imposed tariffs as high as 50% on imported washing machines. Since then, the average price of major appliances—which had steadily declined since 2012—jumped by 10%. Since that category includes all appliances, it’s likely the average price of washing machines has jumped by considerably more. And prices of all washing machines have gone up—not just imports—because rising prices of imports put upward pressure on the prices of competing domestic products.
Trump favors tariffs as a way of making imports more expensive, which in turn might lead to more domestic manufacturing and employment. Manufacturing employment did rise in 2018, but only slightly faster than it had been rising before that, when there were no new tariffs. Even if every one of the 115,00 new manufacturing jobs during the last 6 months had been created because of the Trump tariffs, the cost, in new taxes paid by Americans, would be around $156,000 per job. Most of those jobs pay far less than that.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman