Social Security is touted as an "insurance" program, but it is nothing of the sort.
Insurance, in and of itself, is risk management. You pay a premium, derived from the level of risk you are willing to assume, it's potential costs, and its statistical likelihood, so that if the "bad" thing happens, you have some or all of those expenses paid.
It doesn't matter who runs the program, whether profit or non profit, whether commercial or a mutual aid society, which is where almost all insurance programs started, such as the Amish continue to do now.
However there are two, very important, differences between insurance and SS.
First is that SS has no actual assets to draw against for paying out "claims." Every penny collected in SS taxes is immediately spent. For most of its existence, the surplus was immediately mingled with all other general funds, with nothing but a set of almost hidden bookkeeping entries made. It's not even counted as part of the government debt. There is no fund set aside to pay claims. Even mutual aid societies have, and have always had, those.
Second is that you have no legal right to any payout, even if you meet all the conditions under which you, mistakenly, thought "entitles" you to them. The government uses the word "entitlements," but, as far as government goes, there's no such animal. It's nothing but political shorthand to make it sound better. It stands for a class of benefits that is on "autopilot" as far as budgeting is concerned. Congress passes "rules," the administration implements the "rules," and they aren't affected by passing budgets ... except when Congress changes the "rules," which they are legally free to do at any time.
SS is a Ponzi scheme and always has been. Money paid out today is taken from monies collected today by an ever increasing number of "investors," with government grabbing everything "extra," just as Charles Ponzi himself did. Or at least it was until demographics started running up against the hard limit of available new people to fleece. For most of its existence, there were far more people paying in than those collecting. The retirees up until the last 20 or 30 years, reaped a huge bonanza over what they actually paid in.
These days, you don't even get out what you put in.
Government was able to spend far more money than they took in in regular taxes. When that "extra" money started drying up is when the budget deficits and the total debt started exploding. Politicians, as politicians are wont to do, just kept kicking that can down the road, initially knowing, and recently hoping, that they would be ready to retire before the time finally came to pay that piper.
That time is here.
There's a general misconception that wanting something is the same thing as there being an economic demand for it, but that's not the case. It's not unusual for a word to have two meanings that are, on the surface, very similar, but actually, depending on context, quite different. That's the case with the word "demand."
Human desires are unlimited, but the resources available to meet them are not. Until resources are used to create or offer a good or service and it is actually made available there is no economic demand for it. Demand can't be separated from either price or availability in economics. I might desire a general type of item. I might desire it enough to be willing to pay up to $100 for that type of item if I could get it. But if that general sort of item does get produced by someone who brings it on the market with a price tag of $500 then, for me at least, it may as well not exist.
The demand curve for an item is a theoretical construct that is an estimation for how many people are willing to buy something at a given price. The supply curve is a theoretical construct that is an estimation for how many units of an item might be made available by producers at a given price. The only place on either of those curves that corresponds to actual reality is where they cross at any specific given point in time in any specific general market.
That point is no guarantee of anything in the future, except in the most general and, often, very short term use. Costs change. Tastes change. Circumstances change. Other items become available, even if they have nothing to do directly with the item being analyzed. Most new businesses and most new products never find a price point in the market where they are worth continuing to operate or supply.
Desire does not create economic demand, nor does it create supply. Knowing that some people desire a certain kind of thing only lets a producer know that there may be a demand for it if, and only if, he thinks he can produce enough of it at a cost that is enough lower than they are willing to pay for it for long enough for it to be worth committing the resources he has available to produce it.
First we have to accept that there is no perfect system possible. People are people, for good and ill. All we have to work with are incentives.
People who gravitate towards working for, with, or through government almost all have an urge to power, to control what people do. Whatever area of power a government is authorised to operate upon, the boundaries of that area will do nothing but grow ... and grow and grow.
People who do not pay for what they get almost always abuse and/or overuse it, no matter how vital or trivial. Anytime you give something to people for "free," they will never say they've got enough of it. There will always be a demand for more.
Everyone as a buyer wants to get the most they can for the lowest cost. Everyone as a seller wants to get the most money they can for what they sell.
People also tend to be caring, to be generous when they can afford to be, to think they are doing good, not only for themselves, but for the people they care about and even people in general. But people think they know more and are more competent than they really are. They tend to oversimplify the complex and make the simple complicated. Either that or abdicate the authority to choose for themselves to those they deem smarter, more powerful, and better informed than they are. However, no one can know more or can be more concerned about any individual's needs, wants, and desires and how much they value what things, in what proportion, than that person themselves.
While there are always exceptions for every rule about human nature, these are pretty near universally true.
Anything that you try to set up that doesn't take *all* of these into account is going to fail to achieve its stated ends. It will do too much or too little. It will result in the wrong things being done at the wrong times done by the wrong people with wrong information. No one will be happy with the results.
Top down, command and control, never works in the long run. Even in the military, which comes closest, the best structure delegates detailed decision making to the lowest level possible, to the ones with the most knowledge about the actual situation at that specific place and time in the context of the operational goals.
Micromanagers at the top in the military get a lot of people killed. Micromanagers in any large organization waste assets and misdirect efforts, whether it's in a government bureaucracy or a company. They simply *cannot* know enough to make the best decisions for others. No one, even with the most powerful computer and big data, can. It's hubris to think otherwise.
The best system to get the most good for the greatest number is no system at all. To let those who know their own situation best make the decisions. Who know what they value and how much and what their own personal goals are.
Then use the general benevolence of people help those who cannot help themselves. Their desire to maximize their gains, even in the emotional sense, is tempered by wanting to get the most for their time and money and so weed out the grifters. To decide for themselves which charity is doing the most good in the particular area they care about with what they are given, which means low overhead and minimal waste.
Government, by its very nature, cannot be efficient. It cannot take individual situations into account. It cannot change directions swiftly under changing conditions. It cannot operate under anything but bureaucratic structures with all the power grabbing fiefdoms and resource wasting procedures that it inevitably results in.
To try to put something important under the control of a system that ostensibly tries, but simply cannot be, all things to all people, while wasting valuable and scarce resources in people, facilities, and money is an incredibly bad choice.
Health insurance isn't health care. We've linked together two systems that really don't have anything to do with one another. Insurance is financial risk management based on risk pools and statistical analysis. Health care is what goes on between you and medical professionals. The only link is who writes the actual checks to whom.
Over the last 70 years, since allowing companies to offer pre-tax comprehensive health "insurance" as a benefit in a period of wartime wage and price freezes, the two have become so entangled that most people think they're the same thing.
The big companies that offered it during WWII were highly unionized and the unions, in their post war heyday, found it to be a popular bargaining tool. Still, it took over 20 years for it to start making its way into being a general employment benefit outside of union jobs.
Then we had the whole Social Security/Medicare mashup. Social Security was promoted as the equivalent of a retirement account that you were "owed" a return from. With plenty of workers and retirement ages not long past expected lifespans it was a cheap way to get more tax money (No - you don't have any legal right to one penny of SS. If Congress were to end it tomorrow, we're just out of luck).
Tacking on Medicare was just another way to take care of dear old Mom and Dad. It was touted as being the same as insurance. But it wasn't and isn't.
In the early days, just like SS, there were lots of people paying in and only a few taking out. They could afford to cover more and more things. It didn't hurt that the most consistent voting demographic is retirees either. Geriatrics was *the* medical specialty to go into.
But then reality started catching up. The population bulge passed. More expensive and better treatments were extending lifetimes far past what had been the case initially and that cost estimates were predicated on.
Then we added Medicaid as part of the "Great Society" and "War on Poverty" programs. The claim was that if we just spent enough money on taking care of everyone in poverty now, when they needed it, we would get them over their problem time and then they would no longer need assistance. Problem solved. The end of poverty. Needless to say, that didn't work either.
By the 90's over half of all medical costs were being paid directly by the government at various levels. Most of the rest was being paid by insurance company third parties. Almost no one paid for medical care out of their own pockets. And if you're not paying for something, you use a whole lot more of it and don't even bother asking the price, because, who cares, you're not paying for it anyway.
Over the same time span malpractice awards went astronomical. Anything less than a perfect outcome was grounds for a lawsuit. Since the lawyers took a percentage of the payout instead of having to pay them up front, we had another component where people weren't having to pay anything out of their own pocket. Juries know it's the big bad insurance companies that would have to pay, so huge settlements became the norm. My OB/GYN in the mid 80's was paying half of his *gross* for malpractice insurance because babies and pregnant women were especially favored for big jury settlements.
Then the third leg also kicks in ... So much money was being paid out to medical professionals (rightly or, in too many cases, wrongly) both the government and insurance companies started digging in their heels and denying claims on any basis they could find so they didn't have to raise premiums and taxes even higher. Doctors started spending as much or more time on paperwork as actually treating patients. Office staff levels exploded as did clerical workers at the insurance companies and government workers.
All of this additional expense has absolutely nothing to do with the actual delivery of health care, yet it all has to be charged as such. Is it any wonder that health care costs have exploded? Bloat and waste everywhere you look, all supported by what is called the generic health care "system."
The current course is unsustainable, but no one wants to go through the the time it would take to re-tool the whole mess. Free clinics and charity hospitals aren't going to immediately open up the day Medicaid ends. Voting seniors aren't going to give up their benefits willingly. Medical specialists won't be happy to see their clientele shrink. Doctors won't immediately go back to doing more pro bono work. Armies of clerical workers aren't going to be happy to find their services are no longer needed. Lawyers, especially lawyers, wouldn't be at all happy with what tort reform would do to their bottom line (and lawyers are, by far and away, the most common original profession of politicians).
There are no good solutions. One way or another there are going to be some really tough times ahead when it come to "the health care system."
People are going to get hurt. Those who lose their cushy jobs or benefits and those who can no longer get the timely care, if at all, they need, or some combination of the above, during the changeover in a return to a free market.
Otherwise it will be a loss of some cushy jobs and benefits and those who can no longer get the timely care, if at all, they need or some combination of the above from that point on if the government takes full control and resorts to rationing, which they've already admitted would have to happen and has and is happening elsewhere.
At least the first option has an end in sight. The latter doesn't.
The anarchist position is that the goal is to have no government, only private businesses providing all services currently handled by governments, including and especially police, courts and military defense.
Each person would voluntarily pay for whatever amount of each service they think they need, contracted with whatever company or combination of companies they choose. Over time, these companies would develop agreements on how to work with each other when needed and would rise and fall individually depending on how well they did at actually providing those services.
Criminals will pay just restitution for their crimes as decided by independent arbitration, and any other penalty that the arbiter thinks is just and will be carried out and enforced by the security company you or any arbiter contracts with.
Civil complaints will also be decided by arbitration with the same understandings.
All of this will be handled via universally and voluntarily accepted just means without infringing on anyone else's rights and no force will be needed or used against anyone but the offending party in criminal cases or losing party in arbitration cases, and no security company will interfere with enforcing the judgments reached by an arbiter or by another security company, who are all held to the highest standards by their contractees.
People would be motivated to interact peacefully because their overriding concern is about maintaining their reputations so that others will be willing to keep interacting with them. If there's a danger, people will voluntarily band together to do whatever it takes to defend what is right and just.
More just? Yes.
Possible? Only if you can successfully get from here to there where you have multiple competing institutions, each of which has to be individually capable of maintaining the strength needed to successfully defend everyone from enemies both internal (criminals) and external (other countries, gangs, mobs, etc.) within their purview for both the current and foreseeable future, as well as the actions of all security companies and all arbitration settlements being universally recognized as definitive and enforceable by all parties that could possibly be involved on any side in any dispute.
But human nature isn't going to change and neither is the rest of the world, even if you could get any part of it to change over.
That is what I see no possibility of, for all the desirability of the end goal, and what no anarchist has made even a stab at actually laying out, step by step, that I've ever read or heard.
I read that these institutions will develop themselves ... but how does the change over actually take place? Saying that it just happens somehow and everything else is going to pause while it's going on doesn't cut it.
I read that everyone will accept the arbiter's judgements and the actions of these security companies as all being beyond reproach, that people are only going to pick companies based on what's right, not necessarily what's best for their own personal immediate interests, that there will be no conflict between these sterling characters and businesses ... but that's not how real people act.
I read that everyone is going to realize what is actually in their own best long term interests and be willing to pay for it ... but they haven't been up until now. What fundamental part of human nature is going to change and what will change it?
In some ways anarchists are a mirror image of the statists. If everything just worked the way it's "supposed" to then everything would be just wonderful.
But it never does. People persist in being the same kind of people they've always been. Reality doesn't change simply because someone thinks that's the way things ought to be.
Accepting the realities about human behavior, desires, and motivations has to be the bedrock of any human endeavor that has even the least chance of success. That means accepting that the bad is just as real and just as basic as the good.
The basic ethical ideal of a perfect state is that perfect justice is always perfectly done, but how do we pay for it?
People are not always rational. Miscarriages of justice will happen. Getting the just restitution (and costs) due actually paid by those found liable in civil or criminal cases is not always possible. People want what they want but they often don't want to pay for it until and unless they actually need it themselves.
A person who's never been in trouble with the law or has never been offended against often doesn't put a lot of value (and value judgements are always subjective) into the ongoing operational costs of a justice system. On the other hand, a person who has been sued or charged with a crime, rightly or wrongly, or has been offended against, suddenly puts a lot of value into a justice system that will give them the outcome they want, whether actually just or not.
That's simply human nature.
Accepting all this reality means that there is no perfectly just system possible. It then becomes a matter or looking at the various possibilities and finding the trade-offs that come closest to it.
Voluntaryism is great, but is rarely sufficient.
The general benefits of a justice system are amorphous. They often can't be pinned down to what person gets what value or even what that value is.
A person who owes, whether to the justice system for costs or to the person to whom reparations are due, may simply be unable to ever pay them.
And all of this doesn't even start to consider the ongoing costs of a military capable of defending a given geographical area in today's world.
So it may be that some sort of tax is the most just feasible way of distributing those costs.
Then the question becomes what kind of tax.
A head tax would be the most just, based on the assumption that everyone's life is of equal value. But the reality is that many people would be simply unable to pay an equal portion of all the costs associated with even a minimalist government.
So we need a measurable characteristic that will, as justly as possible, also take into account a person's ability to pay. Monetary value of something, especially when we're considering monetary financing of a system, is the next best way.
But how do we determine an objective value for something in and of itself? We can't, since value is subjective. The closest we can come is the value that two people place on something at the time when it is actually transferred from one person to another.
That brings us down to another two choices. The tax can be assessed on the sale itself or, for durable goods or land, an ongoing assessment.
Both of them have significant problems. For a sales tax, who collects it? How do you enforce it? For durable goods or land, what do you do about the fact that some assets depreciate in value over time and other appreciate. Who decides the value at any given time? And, once again, how do you enforce it?
At this point I've got more questions than answers. Some sort of compromise among all the possibilities has to be reached. Some sort of answers have to be decided upon. But I don't feel competent to declare what those compromises and answers *should* be.
This post by James Pethokoukis on the enormous interconnectedness of globe-spanning supply chains, along with David Henderson’s reminder of Pietra Rivoli’s The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy, reinforce the reality that reality is vastly more complex than most people realize. Indeed, it’s not too far a stretch to say that nearly all mistaken economic notions, dangerous ideologies, and counterproductive government policies are the simple results of people thinking the world to be far simpler than it really is.
The solution is to seize income or wealth from those who have more and give it to those who have less. Simple. Easy-peasy.
Do you not have as much money as you like, or do you despair that some people have much more money than do other people? Both the explanation and the solution seem simple. The explanation for income and wealth inequality is that those who have more have more only because they’ve somehow weaseled an excessively large share of “society’s” wealth from those who have less. The solution is to seize income or wealth from those who have more and give it to those who have less. Simple. Easy-peasy.
Anyone who has mastered simple addition understands that transferring $X from Smith to Jones reduces Smith’s net worth by $X while raising Jones’s net worth by the same amount. And because wealth simply exists – it’s simply out there – the only effects of any such forcible transfer are simply to make Jones richer, Smith less-rich, and society more equal. What you get is what you see. See, simple!
Do you grieve for workers who lose jobs to fellow Americans who choose to buy more imports? The explanation and the solution are simple: restrict imports. Jobs saved! End of story. Simple! And the only possible explanation for policies that allow domestic jobs to be ‘destroyed’ by foreign trade is that people in power, who are either malevolent or incompetent, simply failed to pursue the simple solution of protectionism. It follows that solving this simple problem requires nothing more than installing in high office someone strong and resolute – someone skilled in the art of the deal – who will simply demand that foreigners reduce their sales to domestic consumers. No more job losses! Our country is great again! What could be simpler? Who needs – indeed, who even notices – complex global supply chains? Restrict trade and everything we need we will simply produce ourselves. No prob!
Are people in some foreign lands tyrannized by their own rulers? The explanation and the solution are simple. Somehow the levers of state power in those lands fell into the hands of bad guys. The simple solution is to get rid of the bad guys and replace them with good guys. And the simple way to replace bad guys with good guys is with physical force. Further, because we are good guys – and because, when we are abroad, we are always noble – we should simply use the resources at our disposal to dispose of the bad guys and their bad policies. Quite straightforward, really.
Is the economy slumping? The explanation and the solution are simple. Every businessperson knows that the more people spend on the offerings of existing businesses, the more profitable and thriving are these businesses. So the simple reason for an economy-wide slump is that people aren’t spending enough economy-wide. The solution is to get people to increase their spending in the aggregate. Duh! What could be simpler?
Has some teenager or single mom died of an overdose of an illegal drug? The explanation and solution are simple. Drug-enforcement efforts are too weak. Rev up those efforts and watch not only illegal drug use fall, but currently dissolute and irresponsible people become less dissolute and more responsible. Simple!
Are some workers paid less than you feel they should be paid? Of course your assessment is correct, for nothing could be simpler than noticing that some workers’ wages are much, much, much lower than are other workers’ wages. And wages so low are simply wrong! The simple and obvious solution is simply to force employers to pay all of their workers wages that are at least as high as you judge appropriate. Simple!
Do government schools perform poorly? My gosh, the explanation is simple and plain as day: these schools are underfunded. To solve this simple problem, simply increase government-schools’ budgets. Simple!
Whatever your complaint, the solution is simple: give power and authority to the government.
Are some people homeless? The reason for this misfortune is simple: there aren’t enough homes. The solution is equally simple: build more homes that homeless people can afford! (It’s called “affordable housing,” which differs from what too many home-builders mysteriously insist on building: unaffordable housing.) Why didn’t anyone think of this simple solution earlier?!
Indeed, is your life not ideal? Is the world imperfect? The explanation for much of this sad reality is that other people are not behaving in ways that would make your life and the world better. It’s oh-so-plain to see. If only merchants would lower their prices. If only employers would raise the wages they pay. If only investors would build that new factory in my town rather than elsewhere. If only those people from far away did not come here and offer to work at the same kind of job that I now hold. If only the police would get tougher on criminals. If only our elected leaders would not be out-bargained by foreign leaders. If only our military were better funded and not restrained by misguided isolationist sentiments here at home. If only corporations would put people ahead of profits. If only corporations didn’t spend so much to influence the outcomes of elections. If only…. Whatever your complaint, the solution is simple: give power and authority to government officials who promise with great earnestness to “solve” whatever problems you, as a voter, instruct them to solve. These officials, adequately armed and provisioned, will simply roll up their sleeves and attack the problems directly – simply – and fix things.
What could be simpler?
Republished from Cafe Hayek.
Donald Boudreaux is a senior fellow with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a Mercatus Center Board Member, a professor of economics and former economics-department chair at George Mason University, and a former FEE president.
This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.
A little sidetrack into what may be one of the most dangerous natural catastrophes that will hit today's world that almost no one knows about.
Most people at least sort of know what a solar flare is - a burst of radiation emitted by the sun. What they don't know about is called a coronal mass ejection (CME).
A CME is an actual physical plasma (positive ions and free electrons) that is released from the sun carrying an incredibly powerful electromagnetic potential. They are fairly common and can range in size. But the sun is a big thing and the odds of any particular CME hitting the Earth itself are fairly small. A big one is generally thought of as a 100 year event, meaning in any particular year the odds of being hit by one is less than 1 in 100.
Prior to the electrical age, their only observable effect were the huge auroras, caused by the interaction of the electrically charged plasma and the magnetic field of the Earth itself, seen much farther from the poles than they would normally ever be. Beautiful, but possibly scary to people who had never seen one - like a big comet or supernova.
But what happens when those massive electrically charged particles interact with a conductor of electricity? I won't try to go into the complexities of how electromagnetic field effects work, but the long and short of it is that they create a current flow in any conductor. What happens when you have more current flowing through a conductor than it was designed to handle? Short circuits or even physically melting altogether.
Your home or office's circuit breaker panel is made for the purpose of handling overloads in anything it's connected to by physically breaking the circuits. Power strips and dedicated grounds are for dealing with power overloads or drops in the electrical power grid itself, such as from a nearby lightning strike.
A CME is like a universal lightning strike that hits everywhere at once and can last for days.
The last one we got hit with, in 1859, took down the entire world's telegraph system. The next one could take out almost the entire electrical/electronic system that so much of the modern world is utterly dependant on, both on Earth and in space.
Power and satellite companies get solar weather reports just like Earth weather, but the vast majority of the population knows absolutely nothing about it and would only have an average of 3 to 4 day's warning to understand and prepare to whatever extent is possible. The only reasonably sure protection is by physically disconnecting from any power source, and securely grounding everything that could have an induced current flowing through it for the entire length of time it takes for it to pass.
Unfortunately there's no way to ground most electronics. Few installations have a dedicated ground circuit and nothing mobile (including cars and trucks - yes, they'll get hit too) is designed for it to be done at all. For small electronics the only possibility is a faraday cage - entirely enclosed in a well grounded conductive, usually copper, netting. Not many of them around and not something you can whip up in just a few days. Personally, I've got enough conductive wire for making jewelry that I could probably put something together in a few days big enough for my computer and a few small things, but that's not common. Available wire supplies to buy would be gone within hours of knowing one's coming, bought by people who already know the danger and what to do about it.
It may not happen tomorrow. It may not happen in the next 50 years. But there's no question, it will happen.
When or anyone unilaterally decides how something should be priced, you are dictating to everyone what they can and can't do, what they can and can't buy, what they do or do not want.
Labor and material cost are far from the only inputs into the price of something at any given place and time. What people are willing to pay tells manufacturers where and where not to invest and how much or how little of it to produce. Prices dictate profits and the potential for profits is the incentive for why a person or business makes something in the first place or looks for ways to make it better or cheaper.
Capitalism, in purely economic terms, is really just an acknowledgment that there is often an investment (capital) needed in order to make something or to offer a service for sake and that those who come with the investment (capital) should reap a reward for their investment.
Investment is simply savings, delaying current buying (consumption) in the expectation of having those savings work to give you more money in the future.
Free markets require the ability to invest, i.e. capitalism, but the reverse isn't necessarily true. Simply because you are allowed to invest, doesn't mean you are participating in a free market.
Free markets are what empower people to create opportunities for themselves, not some super-governmental body dictating prices and products. Countries do not trade. People trade. Businesses trade. Stop trying to interfere with their ability to do so in the way that each one of them decides is best for *them*.
For most of the first 100 years of the US, the only two major financing methods the federal government used were tariffs and, to a lesser extent, taxes on liquor. Tariff rates were generally from 5 to 10%. Imports and exports stayed fairly equal since there wasn't much in the way of foreign investment in the US (which doesn't get accounted for in the way we figure trade "deficits" today). Far harder to invest and run a business on the other side of a huge ocean that still took quite a while and involved a significant level of actual danger to cross than it is today.
Tariffs were also explicitly used as a weapon against the South, to force them to buy goods from the North instead of imports. In fact, that was one of the major arguments that led to the succession of the South and the resultant Civil War. Sorry, but no, it wasn't *all* about slavery.
No single policy acts in a vacuum. We grew despite the tariffs that were in place, not because of them. We grew because of the low level of government interference in free markets. We grew because we didn't see business as some evil or dangerous mount that needed to be ridden with jack boots and spurs.
Free trade benefits the population as a whole. Yes, some individuals get hurt, but that happens all the time for many reasons other than trade as well, whether it's new technology or processes, businesses moving from one place in the country to another, or just the changing tastes of the general public.
Yet even though all of these non-international trade changes create far more total losses for the individual businesses and employees in the nation affected by whatever changes happen, we still recognize that the nation as a whole benefits and so don't demand government stop the changes from happening (although many states have become quite predatory or cronyist in offering government goodies to attract new or keep old companies in their state).
International trade is exactly the same thing. There is no economic difference to the nation as a whole what caused the change that creates the temporary business dislocation. When a less expensive way of making a good is found, more people benefit than are harmed, albeit that the losses are more localized and easy to see, while the benefits are more diffuse and harder to pinpoint.
The ideal situation is that our government not get involved at all. It doesn't matter to the workers or final consumers what another country's policies are. They are really unimportant to a truly free trade. If another country doesn't mind harming their own citizens for the benefit of their politically well connected, that's their problem, not ours. It is not our business, as a country, to decide how other countries are run.
Any artificial change in the price or supply of any good or service, such as tariffs, forced on the economy harms it as a whole. The current free market price of any given good or service is the always moving target of finding the most efficient way to produce the most supply of what is of the most value to the most consumers at the lowest possible price. That's really the bottom line of what drives everything that happens in a free market.
Prices people are willing to pay are used to inform producers of what consumers want at any given point in time. Desire for profits drives producers to find the most efficient way to meet those desires at the lowest cost. That process is what has created the incredible world we live in today, the explosion of possibilities never even dreamed of before, raising masses of people the Earth could never even have sustained before yet to an increasing standard of living, in an amount of time that's the merest fraction of the history of the human race.
This is what freedom creates and this is what is blocked when the force of government inserts itself between what free and peaceful people want to do and what they are allowed to do. It can do nothing *but* net harm to its citizens.