Chinese apparel have been slapped with a quota. Quotas are worse than tariffs, but first here’s a little background.
The rash of China bashing is well-timed to keep the Chinese buying dollars according to Yuan Answers? (WSJ, 6/10, subscription required). A triangular trade where US sends dollars and st0ck and title deeds overseas to the rich savers of the world and imports lots of stuff in one way shipping containers from China is not a bad thing. In fact, it can be sustained indefinitely with the US capital st0ck continuing to grow. It is a testament to how our laws are not quite as bad as everyone else’s.
In economics we talk about how tariffs and quotas both imply a “deadweight social loss”. When prices are artificially raised via a tariff, the customer prices rise and the supplier prices fall. The quantity sold also falls. It is this last part that is the first component of deadweight loss. By reducing the quantity sold, profitable trades without the tariff become unprofitable because they are not profitable enough to beat the “spread” between the supplier and customer prices induced by the tariff. All this is Economics 101.
A quota has an additional element beyond this kind of loss. In a quota, the supply price rises too. That means that any supplier who can produce at the new higher price will try to fulfill their quota. Thus suppliers who would have cut back production under a tariff will continue to produce to fulfill their quota. Everyone is cut back pro-rata (or according to some formula, e.g., 7.5% more than last year even if growth would otherwise be 500%) and not according to who is the most efficient. Coase might say that quota shares could be traded, but this entails higher transactions expense than the decentralized trade that occurs with a competitive market price.
The additional inefficiency is happily born by international suppliers who receive a major benefit when a quota is imposed–higher prices. So the quota is a collusive bargain between the Government, the domestic suppliers and the foreign suppliers to raise prices on the consumers at the cost to the economy of two kinds of deadweight social loss. Diffuse harm, concentrated benefit. Can one file a class action law suit against an industry association that lobbies for selfish policy?