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Tyler Cowen

Trump’s Trade War Enters a Dangerous New Phase

These latest tariffs are high enough to hurt the economy but low enough so the president won’t pay a political price.

Those are now 10 percent more expensive.

Those are now 10 percent more expensive.

Photographer: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

As the U.S.-China trade war escalates, with both parties imposing higher tariffs on the other, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross tried to defuse some of the tension. Because America’s 10 percent tariff on some $200 billion worth of Chinese imports is “spread across thousands and thousands of products,” he noted, “nobody is going to actually notice it at the end of the day.”

This argument has been met by scorn, but has a disturbing grain of truth to it. It is also a reason that the trade war may be worse, not better, than expected.