Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Exports over Imports

The benefits of exports go to producers. The benefits of imports go to consumers.

When imports are cheaper than domestic products, the benefits of those imports are widely dispersed among consumers who save money. But because the benefits are dispersed this is a difficult group to politicize. On the other hand, it's very easy to create a political rally around producers. They tend to be concentrated in companies. Large companies are easy to find. Making it easy to organize events that stir up political will.

As a result, politicians, seeking votes, will almost always prefer to meet the needs of producers over the needs of consumers. This political tendency does not measure the relative benefits that accrue to producers & consumers, compare them, and select the maximum benefit. Rather, it measures only the benefits of exports and ignores entirely the benefits of imports, because the benefits of exports are much easier to convert to political capital.

Hence, we get tariffs on tires that provide huge benefits to tire manufacturers, but raises the cost of tires for the rest of us. This will distort the market in unanticipated ways. No one could have predicted that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) would be the response to the tariff on sugar imports - hurting American sugar consumers without actually helping American sugar producers.

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