Quora Question: Will Tariffs Bring Back Manufacturing Jobs?

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Miners at a coal mine near Gilbert, West Virginia, on May 22, 2014. Robert Galbraith/reuters

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Answer from David Autor, Ford Professor of Economics and Associate Head at MIT:

Would imposing tariffs bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.? No, it's very unlikely to do that. Manufacturing value chains are global. Many U.S.-made goods have foreign components. Slapping on tariffs will raise prices and slow imports but it will make us poorer and impede growth.

We can have smarter trade policy (e.g., the tax reforms discussed here), and we can aggressively enforce our current policies to protect intellectual property, enforce rule of law, and require equal treatment from our trading partners. Tariffs are not the way to go about that though.

Backing out of TPP was a very poor decision. The country that cheered loudest when we did that was China because TPP was set up as a bulwark against Chinese economic dominance in Asia. We harmed our own interests and those of our closest Asian allies (especially Japan) by reneging on that in-process agreement after many countries had invested substantial political capital in making it feasible. The biggest beneficiary of our withdrawal: China. The biggest loser: Japan. The second biggest: the U.S.

One additional note: I hope that more manufacturing returns to the U.S., and it may do so with appropriate tax policies (and even temporarily if we make imports very expensive—though it's a bad idea). But new manufacturing production will be capital/robot intensive and skill intensive. It's not going to create mass employment. Manufacturing is not labor intensive any longer. And what labor intensive manufacturing exists cannot be done competitively in the U.S. There's a reason why India will be assembling iPhones and the U.S. likely will not: those are mundane low skill jobs that could not pay a decent wage in the U.S.

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Quora Question: Will Tariffs Bring Back Manufacturing Jobs? | Opinion