The NYT had a front page piece on how two major steel companies with close ties to the Trump administration are having enormous say on which companies are granted exemptions to his steel tariffs. While there is nothing in principle wrong with the affected companies giving their input on whether exemptions should be granted, given the lack of transparency and financial disclosure by top officials in the Trump administration, it is difficult to have confidence that these decisions are being made on the merits alone.

This issue has been noted earlier by the NYT. Tariffs and exemptions to them provide enormous opportunities for the Trump administration to practice crony capitalism. That is not necessarily an argument against all tariffs, but such favoritism is an inevitable problem associated with tariffs or other forms of protectionism (like patents and copyrights). This does show the need for having a transparent process in which the individuals making decisions do not have a financial interest in the outcome.