Inconsistent Arguments on Tariffs

importing-goodsIf a person were to argue that taking human life no matter the circumstances was intrinsically immoral, while concurrently supporting capital punishment, we would quickly identify an argumentative inconsistency. Either it is intrinsically immoral to take human life no matter the consequences or circumstances, or we can think of situations where taking human life may be a just punishment for various actions. To remain in the inconsistency diminishes the seriousness of the argument being presented since both positions cannot be simultaneously maintained. This inconsistency, once identified, forces a person to choose a position if argumentative cogency if philosophical seriousness is to be preserved. If the inconsistency were not corrected, the position quickly reduces to moral relativism.

The same can be said for arguments in the economic arena. If a person were to argue that tariffs and government subsidies are bad economic policy, and equate these policies to crony capitalism, socialism, economic centralization resulting in market distortions and the misallocation of resources that could be used for alternative uses, then this position must be held consistently. If this position on economic policy is held while also arguing that tariffs and subsidies are acceptable policies for private businesses receiving contracts operating within the realm of national security, an argumentative inconsistency can be identified once again. Either tariffs and subsidies are bad policy because of the reasons already listed above, or they can be justified under certain circumstances, which negates the previously held position.

Both of these positions cannot be held simultaneously if philosophical consistency in the realm of economic policy is an intellectual virtue worthy of being pursued.

In order to maintain argumentative cogency, a choice must be made. One must argue consistently against tariffs and subsidies no matter the economic categorization of their application, or argue that tariffs and subsidies can in some cases be good government policy.

This is part of the criticism I have been making against conservatives in their treatment of Donald Trump’s economic policies concerning the Carrier deal and his policy of protectionist tariffs. The other side of the argument I have offered is historical, but I am not going to enter into that for the time being.

Thus far, my criticisms have been about a specific argument while not taking a position on a particular view concerning tariffs and subsidies. If I were to hold myself to my own standard, I would have to take the position that tariffs and subsidies can be good government policy depending on the circumstances of the surrounding political realities. Why must I take this position? It is quite simple really; I don’t have much of an issue with government intervention into the economy concerning matters of national security. This isn’t a blank check on the matter of said intervention, but recognition of the moral necessity in times of an expedient application of national defense policy during the instance of a just war. In addition to this, I would also maintain that there are moral duties and values that are higher than that of economic efficiency and price signals. There can be good moral cases made for protecting American jobs and markets from trade deals that are detrimental to communities and culture.

The political economy is a reflection of a culture’s moral economy. Given the moral nature of an economy it becomes easy to see that the economy was made for man and not man for the economy.


– Lucas G. Westman

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