The decision to slap 220 percent tariffs on imported aircraft is so wrongheaded, so unjust, so self-defeating that it is hard to know where criticism should begin.
With this one ruling, the Trump administration has weakened the aviation industry, insulted two close U.S. allies and hurt American consumers. And all for the sake of what? Boeing, which initiated the action, wasn't even bidding for the order to which it now objects.
At stake is Delta's $5.6 billion purchase of 125 aircraft made by the Canadian firm, Bombardier. Bombardier had spotted a gap in the market for medium-sized planes, holding between 100 and 150 passengers. The resulting C-series jet is impressive enough, but was badly over-budget.
Needing instant cash, Bombardier offered some of its stock to Delta at below market price. This is what triggered Boeing's heavy-handed action against its much smaller and less profitable rival — despite Boeing having not pitched for the Delta contract.
Who loses as a result? Bombardier, obviously, and its employees, many of whom are based in Northern Ireland, but also U.S. airlines. Delta, Sun Country, and Spirit have all condemned Boeing's action, despite being major customers of that company, because they understand that the last thing the American aviation market needs is to cut itself off from new technology.
Who else loses? Air travelers, whose tickets will now cost more than they otherwise would have. Not to mention every business that those passengers would have spent their extra disposable income on, plus every firm that would have supplied the needs of the additional cabin crew who now won't exist. I'd say that covers pretty much everyone in the U.S., along with a fair number of people in the UK and Canada.
Who wins? No one. Absolutely no one. Not even Boeing. Indeed, Boeing will almost certainly lose in the most direct sense, as the British and Canadian governments now exclude it from their defense contracts — which in turn, of course, will hurt British and Canadian taxpayers and, in the bargain, fractionally weaken the Western alliance. There really are no winners here.
Had Bombardier received taxpayer subsidies? Yes. It got a billion-dollar bailout from the Quebec government. Let's set aside that this is chickenfeed next to the state aid that Boeing receives. Let's ignore, too, the fact that Boeing also sometimes sells at below cost price. Surely, the rational response of the federal authorities would be: "Canadian taxpayers want to subsidize American consumers? Why thank you, neighbors."
For all the talk of "protecting American jobs" and "putting America first," decisions like this destroy American jobs. It's not America that is being put first — it's one corporation that happens to have political pull, and that has successfully lobbied to be given privileges at the expense of the wider economy.
Why does it keep happening? Why do many voters actively support a policy from which they are direct losers? The French economist Frédéric Bastiat provided the answer in his 1850 paper "What you see and what you don't." The jobs at Boeing are extant, visible, and that gives them lobbying power. The jobs that now won't come into existence at Delta and the other airlines are still theoretical, invisible. The people who would have filled them don't know who they are, and therefore don't count as voters.
But that doesn't stop them being far more numerous than the Boeing employees.
It's the same story every time. Steel tariffs may prop up a small number of jobs in steel mills, but cost many more in machine-making, construction, automobiles, and aerospace — including some at Boeing. Sugar tariffs are good news for a handful of sugarcane producers, conveniently concentrated in the electorally critical state of Florida. But, as I have written here before, they kill six jobs in food processing for every job they save on a sugar plantation.
What "putting America first" truly means, in other words, is operating a particularly damaging form of crony capitalism. It means favoring older industries over younger ones, political muscle over entrepreneurship, producers over consumers, the rich over the poor. Worse, it triggers the deep-rooted psychological desire for retaliation in other governments, who then go on to inflict on their own peoples the same pains and penalties that protectionism inflicts on Americans. What a wretched, retrograde decision. Is this truly the direction the U.S. wants to take? The world suddenly feels a little colder, a little darker, a little shakier.
Dan Hannan is a British Conservative MEP.