By Alexia Fernandez Campbell @ Vox.com, April 20
[....] He’s vowed to make it harder for companies to buy cheap imported steel, and this week he announced plans to make all federal contractors use American steel in public infrastructure projects. On Thursday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he has launched an investigation to determine if blocking more steel imports is a matter of national security [....]
While cheap imports likely hurt American steelworkers, economists believe they’re hardly the main cause for the decline of the steel industry. And making it harder to import cheap steel will hurt other American industries that depend on steel, such as automakers and appliance manufactures.
This much is clear: Anti-dumping tariffs don’t do much to protect workers. It would take a drastic policy change to actually stop dumping. And anything that raises the price of steel actually hurts other American industries.
Low demand for steel and decades of automation are the main reasons jobs at American steel mills are disappearing, and no amount of tariffs on Chinese steel can change that tide.
“The deal with these kinds of protections is that they don’t change long-term trends,” says Michael Moore, an economics professor at George Washington University. “The thought that a 55-year-old worker is going to keep their job because you put a tariff on imports is ridiculous.”
Moore worked at a Texas steel mill in the late 1970s, when there were plenty of steel jobs that paid the equivalent of $30 an hour. But machines now do much of the assembly line work that he did. “Many of the guys I worked with have lost their jobs,” he says. “Back then, it took 10 workers to make a ton of steel. Now it takes one.” [.....]