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Moreover, the costs of saving jobs through protectionism can be very high. A number of different studies have attempted to estimate the cost to consumers in higher prices per job saved through protectionism. [link] shows a sample of results, compiled by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Saving a job through protectionism typically costs much more than the actual worker’s salary. For example, a study published in 2002 compiled evidence that using protectionism to save an average job in the textile and apparel industry would cost $199,000 per job saved. In other words, those workers could have been paid $100,000 per year to be unemployed and the cost would only be half of what it is to keep them working in the textile and apparel industry. This result is not unique to textiles and apparel.

(Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas)
Cost to u.s. consumers of saving a job through protectionism
Industry Protected with Import Tariffs or Quotas Annual Cost per Job Saved
Sugar $826,000
Polyethylene resins $812,000
Dairy products $685,000
Frozen concentrated orange juice $635,000
Ball bearings $603,000
Machine tools $479,000
Women’s handbags $263,000
Glassware $247,000
Apparel and textiles $199,000
Rubber footwear $168,000
Women’s nonathletic footwear $139,000

Why does it cost so much to save jobs through protectionism? The basic reason is that not all of the extra money paid by consumers because of tariffs or quotas goes to save jobs. For example, if tariffs are imposed on steel imports so that buyers of steel pay a higher price, U.S. steel companies earn greater profits, buy more equipment, pay bigger bonuses to managers, give pay raises to existing employees—and also avoid firing some additional workers. Only part of the higher price of protected steel goes toward saving jobs. Also, when an industry is protected, the economy as a whole loses the benefits of playing to its comparative advantage—in other words, producing what it is best at. So, part of the higher price that consumers pay for protected goods is lost economic efficiency, which can be measured as another deadweight loss, like that discussed in Labor and Financial Markets .

There’s a bumper sticker that speaks to the threat some U.S. workers feel from imported products: “Buy American—Save U.S. Jobs.” If the car were being driven by an economist, the sticker might declare: “Block Imports—Save Jobs for Some Americans, Lose Jobs for Other Americans, and Also Pay High Prices.”

Trade and wages

Even if trade does not reduce the number of jobs, it could affect wages. Here, it is important to separate issues about the average level of wages from issues about whether the wages of certain workers may be helped or hurt by trade.

Because trade raises the amount that an economy can produce by letting firms and workers play to their comparative advantage, trade will also cause the average level of wages in an economy to rise. Workers who can produce more will be more desirable to employers, which will shift the demand for their labor out to the right, and increase wages in the labor market. By contrast, barriers to trade will reduce the average level of wages in an economy.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Principles of economics. OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11613/1.11
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