The Ten Worst Insurance Companies in America

How They Raise Premiums, Deny Claims, and Refuse Insurance to Those Who Need it Most

1. Allstate

2. Unum

3. AIG

4. State Farm

5. Conseco

6. WellPoint

7. Farmers

8. UnitedHealth

9. Torchmark

10. Liberty Mutual

 

The U.S. insurance industry takes in over $1 trillion in premiums annually.3 It has $3.8 trillion in assets, more than the GDPs of all but two countries in the world (United States and Japan).

Over the last 10 years, the property/casualty insurance industry has enjoyed average profits of over $30 billion a year. The life and health side of the insurance industry has averaged another $30 billion.

The CEOs of the top 10 property/casualty firms earned an average $8.9 million in 2007. The CEOs of the top 10 life and health insurance companies earned even more—an average $9.1 million. And for the entire industry, the median insurance CEO’s cash compensation still leads all industries at $1.6 million per year.6

Profits Over Policyholders

But some companies have discovered that they can make more money by simply paying out less. As a senior executive at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), the group representing those who are supposed to oversee the industry, said, “The bottom line is that insurance companies make money when they don’t pay claims.”7 One example is Ethel Adams, a 60-year-old woman left in a coma and seriously injured after a multi-vehicle crash in Washington State. Her insurance company, Farmers, decided the other driver had acted intentionally and denied her claim, contending that an intentional act is not an accident. Another example is Debra Potter, who for years sold Unum’s disability policies until she herself became disabled and had to stop working. All along, Potter thought she was helping people protect their future, but when her own time of need came, she was told her multiple sclerosis was “self reported” and her claim denied—by Unum, the very company whose policies she had sold. In cases like these, and countless others, the name of the game is deny, delay, defend—do anything, in fact, to avoid paying claims. For companies like Allstate, there are corporate training manuals explaining how to avoid payments, portable fridges awarded to adjusters who deny the most claims, and pizza for parties to shred documents.

 

Conclusion:

The insurance industry is in dire need of reform. For too many insurance companies, profits have clearly trumped fair dealing with policyholders. The industry has done all it can to maximize its profits and rid itself of claims. Allstate CEO Thomas Wilson outlined the strategy when he said the company had “begun to think and act more like a consumer products company.”176 Allstate has enjoyed a return double that of the S&P 500, but its policyholders have suffered cancellations, nonrenewals, and punishing loss-prevention techniques.177 Wilson has been unrepentant: “Our obligation is to earn a return for our shareholders.”178 Wilson is one of many insurance leaders who have lost sight of their legal and ethical responsibility to policyholders. Now they answer only to Wall Street. The time is due for insurance reform that will level the playing field for consumers.

 

Allstate—The Worst Insurance Company in America

CEO: Thomas Wilson 2007 compensation $10.7 million (predecessor Edward Liddy made $18.8 million in compensation and an additional $25.4 million in retirement benefits)

One company stood out above all others. Allstate’s concerted efforts to put profits over policyholders has earned its place as the worst insurance company in America. According to CEO Thomas Wilson, Allstate’s mission is clear: “our obligation is to earn a return for our shareholders.” Unfortunately, that dedication to shareholders has come at the expense of policyholders. The company that publicly touts its “good hands” approach privately instructs agents to employ a “boxing gloves” strategy against its own policyholders.1 In the words of former Allstate adjuster Jo Ann Katzman, “We were told to lie by our supervisors—it’s tough to look at people and know you’re lying.

There is no greater poster child for insurance industry greed than Allstate. According to CEO Thomas Wilson, Allstate’s mission is clear: “our obligation is to earn a return for our shareholders.”9 Unfortunately, that dedication to shareholders has come at a price. According to investigations and documents Allstate was forced to make public, the company systematically placed profits over its own policyholders. The company that publicly touts its “good hands” approach privately instructs agents to employ a hardball “boxing gloves” strategy against its own policyholders.10 Allstate’s confrontational attitude towards its own policyholders was the brain child of consulting giant McKinsey & Co. in the mid-1990s. McKinsey was tasked with developing a way to boost Allstate’s bottom line.11 McKinsey recommended Allstate focus on reducing the amount of money it paid in claims, whether or not they were valid. When it adopted these recommendations, Allstate made a deliberate decision to start putting profits over policyholders. The company essentially uses a combination of lowball offers and hardball litigation. When policyholders file a claim, they are often offered an unjustifiably low payment for their injuries, generated by Allstate using secretive claim-evaluation software called Colossus. Those that accept the lowballed settlements are treated with “good hands” but may be left with less money than they need to cover medical bills and lost wages. Those that do not settle frequently get the “boxing gloves”: an aggressive litigation strategy that aims to deny the claim at any cost. Former Allstate employees call it the “three Ds”: deny, delay, and defend. One particular powerpoint slide McKinsey prepared for Allstate featured an alligator and the caption “sit and wait”—emphasizing that delaying claims will increase the likelihood that the claimant gives up.12 According to former Allstate agent Shannon Kmatz, this would make claims “so expensive and so timeconsuming that lawyers would start refusing to help clients.”13 Former Allstate adjusters say they were rewarded for keeping claims payments low, even if they had to deceive their customers. Adjusters who tried to deny fire claims by blaming arson were rewarded with portable fridges, according to former Allstate adjuster Jo Ann Katzman. “We were told to lie by our supervisors. It’s tough to look at people and know you’re lying.”14 Complaints filed against Allstate are greater than almost all of its major competitors, according to data collected by the NAIC.15 In Maryland, regulators imposed the largest fine in state history on Allstate for raising premiums and changing policies without notifying policyholders. Allstate ultimately paid $18.6 million to Maryland consumers for the violations.16 In Texas earlier this year, Allstate agreed to pay more than $70 million after insurance regulators found the company had been overcharging homeowners throughout the state.17 After Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana Department of Insurance received more complaints against Allstate— 1,200—than any other insurance company, and nearly twice as many as the approximately 700 it received about State Farm—despite the fact that its rival had a bigger share of the homeowners market.18 Similarly, in 2003, a series of wildfires devastated Southern California, destroying over 2,000 homes near San Diego alone and killing 15 people. State insurance regulators received over 600 complaints about Allstate and other companies’ handling of claims.19 Allstate says the changes in claims resolution tactics were only about efficiency.20 However, the company’s former CEO, Jerry Choate, admitted in 1997 that the company had reduced payments and increased profit, and said, “the leverage is really on the claims side. If you don’t win there, I don’t care what you do on the front end. You’re not going to win.”21 For four years, Allstate refused to give up copies of the McKinsey documents, even when ordered to do so repeatedly by courts and state regulators. In court filings, the company described its refusal as “respectful civil disobedience.”22 In Florida, regulators finally lost their patience after Allstate executives arrived at a hearing without documents they had been subpoenaed to bring. Only after Allstate was suspended from writing new business did the company, in April 2008, finally agree to produce some 150,000 documents relating to its claim review practices.23 Still, some commentators believe many critical document were missing.

Allstate’s “boxing gloves” strategy boosted its bottom line. The amount Allstate paid out in claims dropped from 79 percent of its premium income in 1996 to just 58 percent ten years later.25 In auto claims, the payouts dropped from 63 percent to just 47 percent.26 Allstate saw $4.6 billion in profits in 2007, more than double the level of profits it experienced in the 1990s. In fact, the company is so awash in cash that it began buying back $15 billion worth of its own stock, despite the fact that the company was simultaneously threatening to reduce coverage of homeowners because of risk of weather-related losses.27 Despite its treatment of policyholders, Allstate’s recent corporate strategy has focused on identifying and retaining loyal customers, those who are more likely to stay with the company and not shop around. The target demographic, as former Allstate CEO Edward Liddy said, is “lifetime value customers who buy more products and stay with us for a longer period of time. That’s Nirvana for an insurance company.”28

Loyalty only runs one way, however. While Allstate focuses on customers who will stick with it for the long haul, the company is systematically withdrawing from entire markets. Allstate or its affiliates have stopped writing home insurance in Delaware, Connecticut, and California, as well as along the coasts of many states, including Maryland and Virginia.29 In Louisiana, Allstate has repeatedly tried to dump its policyholders. In 2007, the company tried to drop 5,000 customers just days after the expiration of an emergency rule preventing insurance companies from canceling customers hit by Katrina. Allstate dropped them for allegedly not showing intent to repair their properties. After an investigation by the Louisiana Insurance Department, Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said, “[A]t best, it was a very ill-conceived and sloppy inspection program. At worst, they wanted off of those properties.”30 Allstate also used an apparent loophole in the law by offering its policyholders a “coverage enhancement” which the company would later argue was a new policy, and thus exempt from non-renewal protection.31 In Florida, Allstate has dropped over 400,000 homeowners since 2004.32 The move has landed Allstate in trouble with regulators because the company appears to be keeping customers if they also have an auto insurance policy with Allstate. Florida law prohibits the sale of one type of insurance to a customer based on their purchase of another line of coverage.33 Allstate officials have acknowledged that most of the 95,000 customers nonrenewed in 2005 and 2006 were homeowners-only customers. The company ran afoul of regulators in New York for the same reason, and was forced to discontinue the practice.34 In California, while other major homeowner insurers, including State Farm and Farmers, agreed to cut rates, Allstate demanded double-digit rate increases in what the former insurance commissioner described as an “exit strategy.” John Garamendi, now the Lieutenant Governor, said, “[T]hey’ve said they want to get out of the homeowners business in a market that is competitive, healthy and profitable.”35 Consumer advocates have also complained that Allstate put an ambiguous provision in homeowners’ policies that may have deceived some policyholders into thinking they had coverage for wind damage when they did not. Socalled “anti-concurrent-causation” clauses state that wind

and rain damage—damage covered under the policy— is excluded if significant flood damage occurs as well. Therefore, those with policies covering wind and rain damage and “hurricane deductibles” still faced the prospect of learning, only after a catastrophic loss, that they had no coverage.36 In 2007, then U.S. Senator Trent Lott sponsored legislation requiring insurers provide “plain English” summaries of what was and what was not covered in order to stop this kind of abuse. “They don’t want you to know what you really have covered,” said Lott.37

 

10. Liberty Mutual

CEO: Edmund F. (Ted) Kelly 2005 compensation $27 million

 

Like Allstate and State Farm before it, Liberty Mutual hired consulting giant McKinsey & Co. to boost its bottom line. The McKinsey strategy relies on lowering the amounts paid in claims, no matter whether the claims were valid or not. By all accounts, Liberty Mutual has not become as notorious as its rivals for the deny, delay, and defend tactics that McKinsey encouraged. However, that has not stopped the company from leading the way in complaint rankings and stories of short-changed victims.171 In fact, Liberty Mutual is facing a glut of litigation from its own vendors who say the company’s cost-cutting has resulted in poor claims processing and a spike in lawsuits.172 Like several other big property casualty insurers, Liberty Mutual has also begun abandoning policyholders across the country. The company has pulled out of many states—not only hurricane susceptible states such as Florida and Louisiana, but also northern states such as Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, Massachusetts, and much of New York. A 2007 New York Times article highlighted Liberty Mutual policyholders James and Ann Gray of Long Island. The Grays were “nonrenewed” by Liberty Mutual despite the fact that they lived 12 miles from the coast and had “been touched by rampaging waters only once, when the upstairs bathroom overflowed.” In fact, Liberty Mutual and its big name competitors have left more than 3 million homeowners stranded over the last few years.173 New York regulators chastised Liberty Mutual for tying nonrenewals to whether a policyholder had an auto policy or other coverage, against state law.174 Liberty Mutual has also gone where even its big property casualty rivals Allstate and State Farm have feared to tread by trying its hand at massive corporate fraud. While the likes of AIG, Zurich, and ACE settled charges that they colluded with broker Marsh & McLennan in a huge bidrigging fraud, Liberty Mutual remains the only insurance company that refuses to concede guilt. The fraud centered around fake bids that companies submitted to Marsh in order to garner artificially inflated rates. Liberty Mutual claims its business practices were lawful and that regulators’ settlement demands are “excessive.”175

 

 

Business Groups Warn of Peril as Trump’s Trade War Spirals

The latest whipsawing escalations in the United States’ trade war with China prompted a wide array of business organizations to warn over the weekend that American consumers and workers would soon be caught in the crossfire.

It is now looking increasingly likely that few large American companies will be able to sidestep the toll exacted by the new tit-for-tat tariffs that China and President Trump rolled out on Friday.

Many business leaders have kept a low profile as the trade war intensified, for fear of attracting President Trump’s ire, and in the hope that the threats of tariffs could be negotiating tactics that will lead to some sort of trade agreement.

But with several tariffs already in place, and President Trump staking out an even more aggressive stance on Friday, many industries are reckoning with just how serious the situation has become.

Joshua Bolten, the president and chief executive of the Business Roundtable, an organization representing the leaders of the largest American companies, said on Sunday that many C.E.O.s were already “poised right on top of the brake.”

“The risk is that everybody’s going to slam on the brake, and that would be a disaster,” Mr. Bolten said on “Face the Nation” on CBS.

President Trump’s latest moves, Mr. Bolten said, could “disrupt trade and commerce in a way that would cause huge damage — not just to the Chinese economy, but to the global economy and the U.S. economy.”

The American manufacturing sector shrank in August for the first time since 2009.
CreditRoss Mantle for The New York Times

The American economy has so far been relatively resilient as the two sides battle. But several recent signs suggest that the tit-for-tat is beginning to broadly hit American businesses.

The American manufacturing sector, for instance, shrank in August for the first time since 2009, according to data released last week from the research group IHS Markit.

“America’s manufacturing workers will bear the brunt of these retaliatory tariffs, which will make it even harder to sell the products they make to customers in China,” the president and chief executive of the National Association of Manufacturers, Jay Timmons, wrote on Twitter on Friday.

While corporate earnings have held strong, several companies said last week that they were trimming their profit expectations as a result of the trade war.

On Friday, after China announced new tariffs and Mr. Trump ordered American companies out of China, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index slid 2.6 percent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite fell 3 percent. After the markets closed, the president announced more tariff increases.

China said on Friday morning that it would impose new tariffs on $75 billion of American imports. A few hours later, President Trump announced on Twitter that he would be raising tariffs further on $550 billion of goods coming from China.

The biggest shock was from Mr. Trump’s statement that he was ordering American companies to “immediately start looking for an alternative to China.”

The president said he had the power to do so as a result of a 1977 law that has traditionally been used to deal with security and military threats.

President Trump on Sunday at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France.
CreditErin Schaff/The New York Times

Over the weekend, some of Mr. Trump’s advisers tried to somewhat soften the blow of the president’s words.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” said that Mr. Trump had the authority to make such a demand if he declared a national emergency but that he had not yet done so.

“I think what he was saying is he’s ordering companies to start looking because he wants to make sure — to the extent we are in an extended trade war — that companies don’t have these issues and move out of China,” Mr. Mnuchin said. “And we want them to be in places where they are trading partners that respect us and trade with us fairly.”

There is still significant uncertainty on how many of the steps that China and Mr. Trump have announced will come into effect. The president has stepped back or delayed previous tariffs. And on Sunday the president said he was having “second thoughts” about the threats he made last week. But shortly thereafter, the White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, said that the president’s regret was that he had not raised tariffs even further.

American businesses have already begun taking steps to respond. The toymaker Hasbro said last month that it was planning to shift a significant portion of its manufacturing from China to other Asian countries by 2020.

The American toy industry is particularly reliant on Chinese factories, which account for 88 percent of its production, according to the National Retail Federation. But the figures are also large for other major portions of the retail industry.

David French, the senior vice president for government relations at the retail federation, said this weekend that companies were facing a difficult road because it could take years to make the kind of moves that the president has demanded.

It’s impossible for businesses to plan for the future in this type of environment,” Mr. French said in a statement. “The administration’s approach clearly isn’t working, and the answer isn’t more taxes on American businesses and consumers. Where does this end?”

Hasbro toys at a Target store in Manhattan. The toy company said last month that it was planning to shift a significant portion of its manufacturing from China to other Asian countries by 2020.
CreditJeenah Moon for The New York Times

President Trump has said that he expects China to pay the costs of the tariffs he has imposed. But the direct costs of the tariffs are generally paid by the companies importing goods from China, who can then pass them along to consumers.

The Consumer Technology Association, which represents the largest electronics companies, has said that the tariffs are already costing the American tech sector $1.3 billion a month, and could raise the price of cellphones by $70 and the price of

The latest whipsawing escalations in the United States’ trade war with China prompted a wide array of business organizations to warn over the weekend that American consumers and workers would soon be caught in the crossfire.

It is now looking increasingly likely that few large American companies will be able to sidestep the toll exacted by the new tit-for-tat tariffs that China and President Trump rolled out on Friday.

Many business leaders have kept a low profile as the trade war intensified, for fear of attracting President Trump’s ire, and in the hope that the threats of tariffs could be negotiating tactics that will lead to some sort of trade agreement.

But with several tariffs already in place, and President Trump staking out an even more aggressive stance on Friday, many industries are reckoning with just how serious the situation has become.

Joshua Bolten, the president and chief executive of the Business Roundtable, an organization representing the leaders of the largest American companies, said on Sunday that many C.E.O.s were already “poised right on top of the brake.”

“The risk is that everybody’s going to slam on the brake, and that would be a disaster,” Mr. Bolten said on “Face the Nation” on CBS.

President Trump’s latest moves, Mr. Bolten said, could “disrupt trade and commerce in a way that would cause huge damage — not just to the Chinese economy, but to the global economy and the U.S. economy.”

The American manufacturing sector shrank in August for the first time since 2009.
CreditRoss Mantle for The New York Times

The American economy has so far been relatively resilient as the two sides battle. But several recent signs suggest that the tit-for-tat is beginning to broadly hit American businesses.

The American manufacturing sector, for instance, shrank in August for the first time since 2009, according to data released last week from the research group IHS Markit.

“America’s manufacturing workers will bear the brunt of these retaliatory tariffs, which will make it even harder to sell the products they make to customers in China,” the president and chief executive of the National Association of Manufacturers, Jay Timmons, wrote on Twitter on Friday.

While corporate earnings have held strong, several companies said last week that they were trimming their profit expectations as a result of the trade war.

On Friday, after China announced new tariffs and Mr. Trump ordered American companies out of China, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index slid 2.6 percent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite fell 3 percent. After the markets closed, the president announced more tariff increases.

China said on Friday morning that it would impose new tariffs on $75 billion of American imports. A few hours later, President Trump announced on Twitter that he would be raising tariffs further on $550 billion of goods coming from China.

The biggest shock was from Mr. Trump’s statement that he was ordering American companies to “immediately start looking for an alternative to China.”

The president said he had the power to do so as a result of a 1977 law that has traditionally been used to deal with security and military threats.

President Trump on Sunday at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France.
CreditErin Schaff/The New York Times

Over the weekend, some of Mr. Trump’s advisers tried to somewhat soften the blow of the president’s words.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” said that Mr. Trump had the authority to make such a demand if he declared a national emergency but that he had not yet done so.

“I think what he was saying is he’s ordering companies to start looking because he wants to make sure — to the extent we are in an extended trade war — that companies don’t have these issues and move out of China,” Mr. Mnuchin said. “And we want them to be in places where they are trading partners that respect us and trade with us fairly.”

There is still significant uncertainty on how many of the steps that China and Mr. Trump have announced will come into effect. The president has stepped back or delayed previous tariffs. And on Sunday the president said he was having “second thoughts” about the threats he made last week. But shortly thereafter, the White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, said that the president’s regret was that he had not raised tariffs even further.

American businesses have already begun taking steps to respond. The toymaker Hasbro said last month that it was planning to shift a significant portion of its manufacturing from China to other Asian countries by 2020.

The American toy industry is particularly reliant on Chinese factories, which account for 88 percent of its production, according to the National Retail Federation. But the figures are also large for other major portions of the retail industry.

David French, the senior vice president for government relations at the retail federation, said this weekend that companies were facing a difficult road because it could take years to make the kind of moves that the president has demanded.

“It’s impossible for businesses to plan for the future in this type of environment,” Mr. French said in a statement. “The administration’s approach clearly isn’t working, and the answer isn’t more taxes on American businesses and consumers. Where does this end?”

Hasbro toys at a Target store in Manhattan. The toy company said last month that it was planning to shift a significant portion of its manufacturing from China to other Asian countries by 2020.
CreditJeenah Moon for The New York Times

President Trump has said that he expects China to pay the costs of the tariffs he has imposed. But the direct costs of the tariffs are generally paid by the companies importing goods from China, who can then pass them along to consumers.

The Consumer Technology Association, which represents the largest electronics companies, has said that the tariffs are already costing the American tech sector $1.3 billion a month, and could raise the price of cellphones by $70 and the price of laptops by $120, on average.

JPMorgan Chase analysts recently predicted that the overall costs to American families of the tariffs were likely to be between $1,000 and $1,500 a year.

“Tariffs are taxes on Americans, putting us on the wrong economic path and compromising our global leadership,” the president and chief executive of the technology association, Gary Shapiro, said on Friday. “How much longer will our families, companies and economy be forced to bear the financial burden of this misguided trade policy?”

China appears to be aiming its tariffs at parts of America where support for President Trump is particularly strong, like farm country in the Midwest. China’s actions on Friday, for instance, add 5 percentage points to the 25 percent tariff already paid on American soybeans.

The president of the American Farm Bureau, Zippy Duvall, said after the latest announcements that “continued retaliation only adds to the difficulties farm and ranch families are facing and takes the situation in the exact wrong direction.”

China also added new tariffs to cars made in America. Tesla, as well as the Germany carmakers Daimler and BMW, are the most vulnerable to the additional levies. Six of the top 10 vehicle models exported from the United States to China, the world’s biggest car market, are from the two German brands, according to the forecaster LMC Automotive.

In private, auto executives say that, for now, the uncertainty is a greater concern than the potential material impact of the tariffs. One auto executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the industry was more worried that it cannot predict what might happen next or how bad it might get.

JPMorgan Chase analysts recently predicted that the overall costs to American families of the tariffs were likely to be between $1,000 and $1,500 a year.

“Tariffs are taxes on Americans, putting us on the wrong economic path and compromising our global leadership,” the president and chief executive of the technology association, Gary Shapiro, said on Friday. “How much longer will our families, companies and economy be forced to bear the financial burden of this misguided trade policy?”

“I’m not a climate change guy, but…”: Farmers reckon with new reality in the heartland

Walking over soggy lifeless crops, Brett Adams, a fifth generation Nebraska farmer, paused to catch his breath. Under the dark grey clouds of the Midwestern spring, he was forced to come to terms with an alarming reality: 80% of his farmland was under freezing floodwater.

In March 2019, record-breaking floods inundated America’s breadbasket, a region that’s also a key exporter of corn and soybeans to the world. Much of the Midwest was overwhelmed with floods as a result of torrential rains, frozen ground unable to absorb more water, heavy snowmelt, and a series of extreme weather events that culminated in a major winter storm—described by meteorologists as a “bomb cyclone.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency responsible for the management of the country’s levee systems, say they’ve seen record runoff in the past 15 years. This historic flood has made it clear that unpredictable weather patterns are getting more extreme. After massive flooding in 2011, the Corps had to repair five breaches. So far in 2019, they are dealing with 50.

“Our current goal is to close all the breaches by March of 2020,” said Matthew Krajewski, the Readiness Branch Chief of the Army Corps of Engineers. However, if the Corps were to update the levee to newer engineering standards — to help it withstand the rising flood levels predicted in the coming years — they would need funding approval from the U.S. Congress.

A recent report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that the U.S has seen the wettest 12 months on record, with an average of 38 inches of rain falling from July 2018 to June 2019.

Adams put it in personal terms. “When I was a kid,” he said, “an inch of rain, or an inch and a half of rain, was a big deal. Now it’s like we get four- or five-inch rains all the time, or six-inch rains, even. That was unheard of.”

“I’m not a climate change guy, as far as climate change, global warming, or any of that stuff,” Adams said. “But have I seen the weather change in, say, my 20-year farming career? Absolutely.”

In response to these troubling changes, some farmers in Nebraska are considering new solutions to keep their businesses afloat. One of those farmers, Graham Christensen, travels the country discussing a green farming initiative called regenerative farming.

Tariffs, Mr. Trump’s Miracle Cure

The president appears to view tariffs as the solution to a wide range of foreign policy problems. It isn’t working.

So we’re going to tax Americans until Mexico stops allowing people from Central America to exercise their legal right to seek admission to the United States?

Seems pretty foolproof.

President Trump announced Thursday evening on Twitter, his preferred medium for policymaking, that he plans to impose a new tariff on all imports from Mexico, “until the illegal immigration problem is remedied.”

The tariff would begin at 5 percent on June 10 and gradually rise to 25 percent by October.

Mr. Trump persists in the falsehood that tariffs are paid by America’s trading partners. The truth is that Mexico would no more pay this tariff than it is paying for the construction of a border wall. The evidence is clear: Mr. Trump’s tariffs are taxes being paid by Americans.

This new tax would sit atop Mr. Trump’s tariffs on aluminum and steel imports, and Mr. Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports, and the bill is adding up. The United States so far has collected about $19 billion in Trump tariffs. A full 25 percent tariff on Mexican goods could add as much as $87 billion a year to that total.

Mexico would most likely respond by imposing retaliatory tariffs, which is especially bad news for the probable targets: American farmers. About two weeks ago Mr. Trump ended a tariff on Mexican aluminum and steel, and Mexico ended a tariff on American farm goods. So much for that false dawn. Farmers may need to resume the search for new markets.

Taxation is always painful, and always the question is whether the benefits outweigh the pain. In this case, Mr. Trump is using a tariff as a cudgel to induce Mexico’s cooperation in keeping immigrants from America’s southern border. While the cost of the tariff would be paid by Americans, the Mexican economy most likely also would suffer a loss of sales to the United States.

Mr. Trump might succeed in pressuring Mexico to take stronger steps on immigration. Tariffs, however, are a very crude tool. Most of the immigrants seeking to cross the southern border are fleeing problems in Central America that are beyond the control of the Mexican government. Moreover, while Mr. Trump tends to refer to all of the immigrants as illegal, many are exercising a legal right to seek asylum.

Past administrations have sought cooperation from Mexico on immigration issues without disrupting economic relations between the two countries. Mr. Trump’s decision to mix the two issues threatens to disrupt both economies because the manufacturing sectors in Mexico and the United States are tightly intertwined. About two-thirds of trade between the countries is between factories owned by the same company, according to Deutsche Bank.

Other American trading partners with whom Mr. Trump is trying to negotiate new trade deals, including Japan and the European Union, presumably are having the same thought.

Last but not least, messing with Mexico weakens the Trump administration’s hand in its dealings with China. Mr. Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods have persuaded some American companies to relocate production to Mexico from China. Those companies now face a more difficult choice. Mr. Trump and his advisers also may find it more difficult to rally international support for their efforts to persuade China to make changes in its economic policies.

Mr. Trump’s apparent determination to fight with all of America’s trading partners at once makes it harder to make progress on any particular front.

Once again, Mr. Trump is lashing out rather than acting strategically — and Americans will feel the pain.

 

Trump’s Fake Fix for a Bad Economic Policy

What is driving the president’s apparent eagerness to impose tariffs is a simple and wrongheaded idea that plays to a large part of his base: A trade war will spur job growth in America. He is trying to use tariffs to give a leg up to American industries against countries that manufacture the same products that we do — whether steel, aluminum or cars — but more efficiently. And who could be against that if it creates more jobs?

.. In reality, however, creating jobs alone does not make for a strong economy. What we really want is to increase production. And to achieve that, we need to allocate labor as efficiently as possible.

.. One way to do that is to ensure that if other countries can make certain goods more efficiently than we can, we trade with them for these items, rather than manufacture them ourselves. The result is cheaper goods, which is to our advantage.

But tariffs do nothing to improve this efficient allocation of labor. They also do not increase or decrease employment. They just shift jobs around, and almost always in a manner that hurts the economy.

.. That is a $12 billion bailout using taxpayer funds for a problem the president himself created.