Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2020-21/Evidence in Tariffs

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This is the Wikibooks Chapter for ATK 2020. Evidence in Tariffs (with particular focus upon those implemented by the US from 2016 to 2020 in response to China's economic growth), analysed through the lenses of political science and economics.

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Tariffs are taxes on imports of goods or services, acting as trade barriers and regulating international trade.[1] Tariffs were implemented by Trump in 2016 to shield America from cheap foreign imports.[2] This was one of Trump's most important promises in the 2016 general election and led to him winning a substantial number of votes in 2 key swing states, Ohio and Pennsylvania.[2]

In March 2018, Trump imposed tariffs on all steel and aluminum imports into the US to safeguard steel workers and those working in the aluminium industry[2] by making American-made steel cheaper than foreign-made steel.[3] As a consequence, US producers could raise their prices revitalizing the American manufacturing sector.[3] The vast majority of economists are against Trump's tariffs on China but some political scientists may justify their use.[3]

The use of economic tariffs by Trump in America to achieve political goals highlights tensions between the disciplines of economics and political science when it comes to using evidence to justify one's viewpoint. The use of evidence between the two disciplines differs in terms of the different methodologies used to collect evidence, the type of evidence (qualitative or quantitative) and the specific focus of the discipline (economic growth or national security). These differences lead to each discipline disagreeing on the value of tariff implementation.

Evidence Across Disciplines[edit | edit source]

Economics[edit | edit source]

The impact of tariffs can be determined using the tariff diagram as evidence. Imposing tariffs protects the domestic supply as the diagram depicts a reasonable surplus for domestic producers. However, the consumer surplus is smaller than if there was free trade, contrasting the positive view of tariffs held in political science. This has relevance to the US trade with China as over $550 billion[4] worth of products from China had new tariffs imposed, becoming an interdisciplinary issue due to the widespread impact this has.

The Effect of Tariffs on Domestic Consumers

From a political view, tariffs can be beneficial by meeting government aims for the prosperity of domestic trade. Economists would be against this, citing economic liberalism through free trade as the best way to ensure a nation's prosperity.[4] When Bush implemented similar tariffs, he was condemned by the EU and the WTO, as these economic organisations argued these policies did not conform to the international rules of free trade.[2] The views of economic organisations such as the EU and WTO confirms how most economists approach the issue of tariffs.

There was a negative effect on consumers as it was estimated that there were 300,000 jobs losses and a decrease in real GDP by 0.3%[4] supporting the negative view of tariffs. However, this is contrasted by the predicted increase in income by 1.2% and exports by 5% in 2021[5] suggesting that economic evidence is not sufficient alone to analyse the effects of these tariffs, especially as economic diagrams are based upon numerous assumptions relying on humans being rational, disputed by the emergence of behavioral economics.

Overall, most economists would use quantitative evidence to justify the claim that Trump's implementation of tariffs will result in economic harm to the US. The main forms of evidence used by economists involve positivist methods which focuses on the description and quantification of economic phenomena. In this example, the negative consequences of tariffs are described using a tariff diagram and quantified with the loss in economic growth.[6]

Political Science[edit | edit source]

Stephanie Rickard, a professor of Political Science in the LSE Department of Government, argues that Trump's metal tariffs were motivated by politics not economics.[2]

Whilst economists and political scientists both may use analytical tools, political scientists are more likely to use descriptive tools. For example, they might quote Machiavelli who emphasized the honor of the state and argue that trade protectionism is a form of achieving this.[7] This form of trade protection can be a useful way to win over voters in plurality electoral systems.[2] Quoting prominent political theorists like Machiavelli is a form of testimonial evidence in which expert opinions support a given argument.[8]

Furthermore, realist political thinkers believe that cooperation between countries is too idealist and so would be in favor of imposing tariffs to protect the interests of the nation state, in this case, the US.[9] They use evidence such as China's influence over the World Health Organisation (WHO) during the corona virus pandemic as an example of how cooperation between states via organisation rarely works.[9] This is a form of analogical evidence as it involves comparing the issue of tariffs to the WHO. Critics point out that this form of evidence is weak because it assumes the two cases are comparable. However, it is often the case in political science that analogical evidence is the only way of substantiating a specific claim.[10]

Trump used Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, a law regarding national security, to justify this form of economic protectionism.[2] Defensive structural realists, a type of political scientist, believe that the state should be protected and would be in favor of these tariffs as they reduce interdependence with competitors and focus on state security.[11] This shows how some political scientists value the sociopolitical security from the tariffs regardless of the economic consequences.

Overall, some political scientists would use evidence to demonstrate their support Trump's tariffs against China, specifically qualitative evidence collected via normative methods, in which political decisions are judged to be either desirable or undesirable as well as analogical and testimonial evidence.[12]

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Economics and political science disagree in terms of the desired outcome: economic efficiency and profit compared to meeting political goals. The main tensions between the disciplines include economics tending to favor positivist methods that seek to explain the world whereas political scientist generally favor normative methods which seek to make judgement upon and improve the world. The differences in methodology result in different conclusions for whether or not tariffs should be implemented. Additionally, conflicts exist between the two disciplines because they value different things. Whilst economists focus on describing the welfare of the US, political scientists may focus on the security of the US more leading to opposing conclusions of tariff implementation. Therefore, different areas of concern for each discipline results in different forms of evidence and ultimately different conclusions.

Tensions exist between political science and economies due to the disciplines clashing when determining who should benefit. Analysing this economic trade war has shown how this dispute can not be easily solved as fundamentally, within both disciplines, what constitutes evidence is affected by both quantitative and qualitative factors shown by the need for economic and political theories. Overall, evidence suggests that these tariffs resulted in a beneficial outcome as they fulfilled Trump's political agenda despite negative consequences for consumers.

Overall, it is clear that an interdisciplinary approach is needed to evaluate evidence from different disciplines to solve world problems.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Kenton, W., 2019. Tariff. [online] Investopedia. Available at: <> [Accessed 9 May 2020].
  2. a b c d e f g Rickard, S., 2018. LSE US Centre. [Blog] What provoked Trump’s tariffs: politics or economics?, Available at: <> [Accessed 3 December 2020]
  3. a b c Trade wars, Trump tariffs and protectionism explained [Internet]. BBC News. 2019 [cited 10 May 2009]. Available from:
  4. a b c Denmark R. More pain than gain: How the US-China trade war hurt America [Online]. Brookings. 2020 [cited 3 December 2020]. Available from:
  5. VOX, CEPR Policy Portal [Online]. 2020 [cited 3 December 2020]. Available from:
  6. Durlauf S, Blume L. The new Palgrave dictionary of economics. Basingstoke, Hampshire [U.K.]: Palgrave Macmillan; 2008.
  7. Nederman C. Niccolò Machiavelli [Internet]. 2019 [cited 9 December 2020]. Available from:
  8. Van Wietmarschen H. Political testimony. Sage Journals [Internet]. 2018 [cited 7 December 2020];18(1):1-5. Available from:
  9. a b Antunes S. Introducing Realism in International Relations Theory [Internet]. E-International Relations. 2018 [cited 9 December 2020]. Available from:
  10. Welsh S. The Value of Analogical Evidence: Poe's "Eureka" in the Context of a Scientific Debate. Modern Language Studies. 1991;21(4):3.
  11. Tripp E. Realism: The Domination of Security Studies [Internet]. E-International Relations; 2013 [cited 14 December 2020]. Available from:
  12. Pietrzyk-Reeves, D., 2017. Normative Political Theory. Teoria Polityki, 1.