by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
If any dangerous storms roll into the United States this summer, President Trump’s tariffs on steel, aluminum, and Canadian timber will make them more costly.
Last year’s hurricane season was the costliest in American history, with three major storms—Harvey, Irma, and Maria—making landfall in the United States. Each of those storms caused more than $50 billion in damage, a threshold that had previously been surpassed by only two storms (2005’s Katrina and 2012’s Sandy).
Even if we avoid a repeat of last year’s weather, the tariffs are creating problems for anyone who wants to be prepared. Hurricane shutters, used to protect windows from being shattered by storms, are often made out of steel or aluminum. Shutter manufacturers are charging higher prices this year to make up for the higher costs and uncertainty created by the tariffs. …
… And if a major storm does hit, driving up demand for home building materials, there are already worries that shortages could occur as tariffs disrupt international suppliers. Developers are careful to downplay the potential costs of products they are trying to sell, but some tell The Real Deal, a South Florida real estate trade publication, that tariffs could increase the price of housing by “only” 1 to 2 percent.
That may not sound like much, until you realize that it means paying around $3,000 more for a home in Miami-Dade County (median home value: $288,000)—or, worse, paying that much more to rebuild your home after it’s been blown away and all your worldly possessions have been lost. Every family has an extra $3,000 stashed away in their survival kit, right?
Protectionism has already proven costly in the wake of major storms. As Reason’s Christian Britschgi noted last year, Trump’s tariffs on Canadian lumber (approved in early 2017 with far less fanfare than the current round of steel and aluminum tariffs) had a direct impact on the rebuilding process around Houston after Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic flooding in August.