At the beginning of March, President Donald Trump announced new tariffs on steel and aluminum. Countries importing these goods to the United States would pay a 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent on aluminum. Trump said the tariffs are necessary to protect American industry. However, economists and historians disagree, saying that they will actually end up hurting America more than helping it.
Trump wants tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum. But will this actually hurt the American economy?
The idea behind imposing these high tariffs is to protect American steel and aluminum production.
Trump mentioned raising tariffs during the campaign as part of his "America first" economic policy. The logic is that, by imposing tariffs — or taxes — on foreign imports, American businesses are more likely to use American-made steel and aluminum instead. However, American production in these metals is low compared to the foreign competition. In fact, the steel industry employs around 140,000 people while steel-consuming industries employ 6.5 million. Based on volume alone, American steel production can't meet the demand for what American businesses need. And forcing companies to pay a steep tariff to import won't help the economy at all.
If American companies are forced to pay more for raw materials, that cost will certainly be passed down to the consumer. This will ultimately result in a higher cost to purchase goods. Consumers will likely buy less as a result. And companies will be incentivized to lay off workers to offset the cost. All of this actually ends up harming American business, rather than protecting it.
Steel workers could be the hardest hit by the increased tariffs
But all of this isn't just theory or conjecture. We have already seen the negative impacts of increased tariffs on steel.
President George W. Bush enacted import tariffs in 2002. And an independent study from Trade Partnership Worldwide found that higher steel prices cost 200,000 jobs and total lost wages were about $5.5 billion in today's dollars. That's a huge economic impact, just like Trump is boasting…but not in the way he has predicted.
Additionally, this situation could be exacerbated as foreign governments impose their own tariffs on American goods in retaliation. The European Union has compiled a list of U.S. products that would receive additional import taxes, including bourbon and Harley Davidson motorcycles. All told, this would amount to a 25 percent tariff on $3.5 billion of goods. This would definitely dissuade EU countries from purchasing American products — further worsening the economic situation. If American companies are making less money, they will have less capital to hire and pay employees. This could result in massive layoffs.
With the United States and Europe considering tariffs on imports, this situation echoes of a trade war that took place in the 1930s, just before the Great Depression hit.
The Tariff Act of 1930, also known as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff after the bill's co-sponsors, increased nearly 900 import taxes. In response, nations around the world also hiked their tariffs. This resulted in a trade war that was a contributing factor in worsening the Great Depression.
The World Trade Organization was founded in part to prevent another trade war from happening. The goal of the WTO is to promote and facilitate global trade. Part of the agreement in its founding was that all of the participating countries would lower or remove their tariffs to allow more free trade. Today, the WTO serves as a governing body to work out trade disputes between countries and prevent unnecessary tariff hikes. Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs were unilaterally enacted by the United States and forces the rest of the world to respond.
Overall, Trump's reasoning behind imposing new steel and aluminum tariffs doesn't match up with the economic realities. His goal is to promote and support American business, but these tariffs will only ultimately end up harming it.
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When you take out a loan for a car, charge something to your credit card, or get a personal line of credit, there is going to be an interest rate that applies to your loan.
A lot of different factors go into what you will be charged, including your own personal credit score. But even those with flawless credit still see a minimum charge that they can't get around. That all goes back to the Federal Funds Rate.
One thing consumers rarely realize is that all of our banks are lending money to each other every night. Banks are legally required to maintain a certain percentage of their deposits in non-interest-bearing accounts at the Federal Reserve to ensure they have enough money to cover any withdrawals that may unexpectedly come up. However, deposits can fluctuate and it's very common for some banks to exceed the requirement on certain days while some fall short. In cases like this, banks actually lend each other money to ensure they meet the minimum balance. It's a bit hard to imagine these multibillion-dollar financial institutions needing to borrow money to tide them over for a bit, but it happens every single night at the Federal Reserve. It's also a nice deal for those with balances above the reserve balance requirement to earn a bit of money with cash that would normally just be sitting there.
The Federal Reserve
The exact interest rate the banks will charge each other is a matter of negotiation between them, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) (the arm of the Federal Reserve that sets monetary policy) meets eight times a year to set a target rate. They evaluate a multitude of economic indicators including unemployment, inflation, and consumer confidence to decide the best rate to keep the country in business. The weighted average of all interest rates across these interbank loans is the effective federal funds rate.
This rate has a huge impact on the economy overall as well as your personal finances. The federal funds rate is essentially the cheapest money available to a bank and that feeds into all of the other loans they make. Banks will add a slight upcharge to the rate set by the Fed to determine what is the lowest interest that they will announce for their most creditworthy customers, also known as the prime rate. If you have a variable interest rate loan (very common with credit cards and some student loans), it's likely that the interest rate you pay is a set percentage on top of that prime rate that your lender is paying. That's why in times of low interest rates (it was set at 0% during the Great Recession), a lot of borrowers should go for fixed interest rate loans that won't increase. However, if the federal funds rate was relatively high (it went up to 20% in the early 1980's), a variable interest rate loan may be a better decision as you would be charged less interest should the rate drop without the need to refinance.
The federal funds rate also has a major impact on your investment portfolio. The stock market reacts very strongly to any changes in interest rates from the Federal Reserve, as a lower rate makes it cheaper for companies to borrow and reinvest while a higher rate may restrict capital and slow short-term growth. If you have a significant portion of your investments in equities, a small change in the federal funds rate can have a large impact on your net worth.
Whether you're leaving a job involuntarily, departing for something new, or just want to prepare for the unknown, it is smart to understand all your options regarding your 401k.
Frugal gifting often gets a bad reputation. However, this shopping method does not make you cheap — it makes you practical. Frugal gifts often avoid waste and overspending and can be just as meaningful (if not more so) as any other present.
With the National Retail Federation predicting each consumer this holiday season to spend upwards of $1,000 on holiday gifts amidst an economic recession —this year might be the perfect time to reconsider your spending budget. We've formulated the ultimate list of frugal gift-giving ideas to get you started.