If you’re like most Americans, you’re familiar with the ongoing economic fist fight between Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping over trade tariffs between the two nations.
If you’re even more like most Americans, that’s pretty much every bit of what you know about the numbers battle between Trump and China. I get it. Who actually paid attention when their teachers started yammering on about economics?
Besides, why would you pay attention to the Trump-China trade war when there is a boatload of other pressing issues facing America. Our President got heckled by the UN, The EPA is waging war AGAINST climate change, the United States’ growing gun problem is being completely ignored, and the President is continuously posting outlandish bullshit on Twitter.
Like, right now, his last Tweet is straightforward support for a guy who’s currently being accused of sexual assault by THREE women.
So, I get it. A lot is going on, and most of it is far more entertaining than some low-key dispute that’s all technical jargon and bureaucrats stewing in melancholy thoughts. Still, the burgeoning disagreement is significant, because it threatens the one victory that Donald Trump has notched since he took office: a thriving economy.
Okay, So What Exactly Is a Tariff?
Before we dive in, a quick vocabulary lesson for those of us who haven’t heard the word “tariff” since yawning our way through early American history.
A tariff is a tax imposed on goods either going out or coming into a country.
For example, let’s say it costs Japan $100 to ship us a sweet-ass PS4. If the US imposes a 5% tariff, that means Japan has to fork over $105 to get that Playstation in your hands. Usually, businesses account for this increase in price by passing the charge onto consumers. So, instead of paying the regular retail price for that PS4, you’re now paying retail plus a fiver.
The idea is to make foreign goods more expensive (and therefore less desirable) for United States’ buyers, whether it’s a foreman buying steel beams for a new high-rise or a soccer mom shopping off-brand tennis shoes at Walmart.
So What Happened Between Trump and China?
Early in 2018, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) summed up a months-long investigation with a report that (miraculously) concluded the same crap Donald Trump has been crying about for years. Specifically, “China is a trade bully.”
According to the USTR’s report, China is totally pwning the rest of the world by committing a whole lot of no-no’s on the international trade scene. Chief among the complaints in the report were allegations that China demanded foreign company’s reveal the secrets behind their technology before they were allowed access to the Chinese market. In Trump’s defense, that last bit appears true.
Trump read the report — or, more likely, had someone explain it to him very slowly — and responded by hitting China with a 25 percent tariff on some stuff the United States regularly buys from China. But it’s cool, because “trade wars are good, and easy to win.”
China responded to those taxes by matching the United States’ tariffs dollar-for-dollar. So, Trump “negotiated” by expanding the number of products getting taxed. Colossal shock: China responded accordingly.
Then Trump was all, “I can always go bigger and dumber!”
And two or three months more economic dick-measuring and both countries were threatening tariffs on more than $200 billion worth of products. And here we are, staring down the barrel of a half a trillion dollar Trump-China trade war.
The specific (terrifying) numbers were put in stark detail by Westpac Bank:
Yes, Those Are Big Numbers … I Still Don’t See Why I Should Care
Let me toss one more massive number at you: 11 million. That’s the number of U.S. jobs that stand to be lost if Trump’s shenanigans continue to escalate. The assumption, here, is that as companies have to spend more money getting their goods overseas, they’ll have to make it up by firing employees. That possibility is especially dangerous for Trump because the lion’s share of China’s trade tariffs are aimed at some of the United States’ top agricultural exports, a fact that Trump lamented a few months back.
Fun fact the first: “Agricultural exports” are made almost exclusively on farms.
Fun fact the second: Farms exist almost exclusively in rural areas of the United States.
Fun fact the third: Rural America (and farmers) love them some Trump.
In other words, China’s attack on US trade is a direct attack on Trump’s voting base. China is counting on the fact that scads of people collecting unemployment aren’t going to be inclined to vote GOP when the chance rolls around.
TLDR; For the Folks Who Just Skimmed for the Tweets and Gifs
China is mean at trade, so Trump is going to put them in their place by making sure American consumers have to pay more for crap imported from China … which is, like, every aisle at Target and Walmart. Forty-five is using tariffs as his ammunition.
Tariffs are extra bills added to imported goods. The purpose of a tariff is to make you buy domestic, not foreign. That sounds good in theory, but a full-scale Trump-China trade war could put millions of people out of work and cripple Trump’s grasp on the heartland.