Martin Sandbu writes at the Finacial Times:
Donald Trump and his economic team love manufacturing. That much is clear from Mr Trump’s speeches; from what his strategist Steve Bannon has said about his self-avowed economic nationalism; and from his trade adviser Peter Navarro’s attacks on Germany and stated goal to repatriate international supply chains.
There is a certain method in their factory worker machismo. As a matter of economic logic, a fetish for mercantilism — exports are good, imports are bad — goes hand in hand with one for manufacturing....
The economic nationalism of President Trump and Messrs Navarro and Bannon can be described as Germany-envy. In those manufacturing powers, they see countries that have fought to hold on to the good, manly jobs that validate the status of the native working class. Like so often with machismo, the envy is rooted in insecurity — a feeling of inadequacy compared with the perceived strength sported by these economies..
If the factory fetishists are obsessed enough to throw themselves into a battle for a steadily shrinking type of employment, they may well find that their most obvious weapons are doubled-edged at best. Suppose the Trump administration forced through changes in the North American Free Trade Agreement so as to repatriate all parts of the car production process, the most salient of the supply chains Mr Navarro says he wants to bring back. The result will be to make US-produced cars more expensive. How is that going to help expand American car exports?
Or suppose that a border tax, or some other protectionist device, is put in place and successfully cuts imports. This would reduce the living standards of many Americans who would pay more for their consumer goods. But would it at least reduce the trade deficit or even create a surplus? No: the most likely effect would be to cut exports, too...
[P]rotectionist policies are likely to shrink imports and exports, leaving the protected economy worse off than before and in no better position even by the misguided measures of the manufacturing fetishists themselves.