Saturday, April 28, 2007

Tariffs: the Regressive "Gender Tax"?

. Saturday, April 28, 2007


We too often think about the broad consumer surplus loss tariffs impose without thinking much about how these losses are distributed among consumers. That tariffs are regressive (i.e., weigh more heavily on low-income households than high-income households) is commonly known. Less commonly recognized is that, at least in apparel, tariffs also discriminate on the basis of gender.

What I find most amusing about the NYT story is the apparent bewilderment: "But after years of poring over dusty tariff lists, international trade court records and Congressional testimony, lawyers have found nothing that explains why, say, the tariff on an imported wool suit is 8.5 percent for a woman and zero for a man. “It’s irrational,” said Peter Bragdon, the general counsel at Columbia Sportswear, one of the companies suing the government."

No, it's not irrational, it's politics. Resolving this puzzle by showing how these inequities arose would be an interesting paper (or honors thesis). Are these accidental, or do they reflect something systematic about tariff politics?

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Tariffs: the Regressive "Gender Tax"?
 
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