Jay Cost of National Review Online explores the troubled history of tariffs.

President Donald Trump has been trying to remake American trade policy, forging better deals for the United States with other nations, including China and the European Union countries. Higher tariffs, or taxes upon the goods these nation export to us, is the main way he’s trying to get them to come to the bargaining table.

The Republican party and the conservative movement have long been the home of free-market economics, which since at least the time of Adam Smith has disdained tariffs as inefficient and counterproductive. As Scott Lincicome — a trade lawyer with the Cato Institute — has put it, “tariffs not only impose immense economic costs but also fail to achieve their primary policy aims and foster political dysfunction along the way.”

President Trump’s domestic policies have otherwise been fairly conservative, so many Republicans may be inclined to give the president a pass on tariffs. But they are wrong to do so. I am not an economist, so it’s outside my expertise to make the economic argument against tariffs (although I trust Lincicome and other free traders on the economics).

I have undertaken extensive study of political corruption in the United States, however, and I can say with absolute certainty that, other than slavery and Jim Crow, no single economic policy has undermined our system of government more consistently than the protective tariff.