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Wilbur Hamilton Ross

Summary:
Payday for Public Choice. Because it’s [the tariffs on Chinese goods] spread over thousands and thousands of products, nobody’s going to actually notice it at the end of the day. This quote is from an interview of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on CNBC’s Squawk Box last September. And now here’s Alexander Hamilton in April 1782: No mode [other than tariffs] can be so convenient as a source of revenue to the United States. It is agreed that imposts on trade, when not immoderate, or improperly laid, is one of the most eligible species of taxation. They fall in a great measure upon articles not of absolute necessity, and being partly transferred to the price of the commodity, are so far imperceptibly paid by the consumer. What’s interesting, beyond their assertion

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Wilbur Hamilton RossWilbur Hamilton Ross

Payday for Public Choice.

Because it’s [the tariffs on Chinese goods] spread over thousands and thousands of products, nobody’s going to actually notice it at the end of the day.

This quote is from an interview of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on CNBC’s Squawk Box last September.

And now here’s Alexander Hamilton in April 1782:

No mode [other than tariffs] can be so convenient as a source of revenue to the United States. It is agreed that imposts on trade, when not immoderate, or improperly laid, is one of the most eligible species of taxation. They fall in a great measure upon articles not of absolute necessity, and being partly transferred to the price of the commodity, are so far imperceptibly paid by the consumer.

What’s interesting, beyond their assertion that consumers won’t notice the slightly higher prices, is that both Hamilton and Ross use this an an argument for tariffs. We economists who apply Public Choice to understand government policy often point out that one reason tariffs are so popular is that they benefit a concentrated group (domestic producers) at the expense of a dispersed group (consumers.) It’s striking to see how upfront both Hamilton and Ross are at admitting that that is one of their arguments for tariffs.

David Henderson
David Henderson is a British economist. He was the Head of the Economics and Statistics Department at the OECD in 1984–1992. Before that he worked as an academic economist in Britain, first at Oxford (Fellow of Lincoln College) and later at University College London (Professor of Economics, 1975–1983); as a British civil servant (first as an Economic Advisor in HM Treasury, and later as Chief Economist in the Ministry of Aviation); and as a staff member of the World Bank (1969–1975). In 1985 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures, which were published in the book Innocence and Design: The Influence of Economic Ideas on Policy (Blackwell, 1986).

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