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The US Will Lose Its Trade War with China

In handicapping the US-China conflict, Keynesian demand management is a better guide than comparative advantage. In principle, China can avoid any damage at all from US tariffs simply by responding with a full-scale Keynesian stimulus.

LONDON – The United States cannot win its tariff war with China, regardless of what President Donald Trump says or does in the coming months. Trump believes that he has the upper hand in this conflict because the US economy is so strong, and also because politicians of both parties support the strategic objective of thwarting China’s rise and preserving US global dominance.

But, ironically, this apparent strength is Trump’s fatal weakness. By applying the martial arts principle of turning an opponent’s strength against him, China should easily win the tariff contest, or at least fight Trump to a draw.

Economists since David Ricardo have argued that restricting imports reduces consumer welfare and impedes productivity growth. But that is not the main reason why Trump will be forced to back down in the trade war. In handicapping the US-China conflict, another economic principle – rarely used to explain the futility of Trump’s tariff threats – is much more important than Ricardo’s concept of comparative advantage: Keynesian demand management.

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