No one denies that international trade has unpleasant consequences for some workers. They have to find other jobs that might not pay as much, but should we protect those jobs through trade restrictions? The Washington-based Institute for International Economics has assembled data that might help with the answer. Tariffs and quotas on imported sugar saved 2,261 jobs during the 1990s. As a result of those restrictions, the average household pays $21 more per year for sugar. The total cost, nationally, sums to $826,000 for each job saved. Trade restrictions on luggage saved 226 jobs and cost consumers $1.2 million in higher prices for each job saved. Restrictions on apparel and textiles saved 168,786 jobs at a cost of nearly $200,000 for each job saved.
You might wonder how it is possible for, say, the sugar industry to rip off consumers. After all, consumers are far more numerous than sugar workers and sugar bosses. It's easy. A lot is at stake for those in the sugar industry, workers and bosses. They dedicate huge resources to pressure Congress into enacting trade restrictions. But how many of us consumers will devote the same resources to unseat a congressman who voted for sugar restrictions that forced us to pay $21 more for the sugar our family uses? It's the problem of visible beneficiaries of trade restrictions, sugar workers and bosses, gaining at the expense of invisible victims -- sugar consumers. We might think of it as congressional price-gouging.