Ferris Bueller may have missed his economics lesson on tariffs the day he cut class, but one of Washington’s biggest trade groups is making sure President Donald Trump and other policymakers don’t.
The National Retail Federation is starting an advertising campaign this week featuring actor and commentator Ben Stein, who’s reprising his role as the economics teacher from the 1986 teen comedy “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” arguing that tariffs are “B-A-D Economics” and hurt consumers.
The NRF declined to say how much it’s spending on the campaign, beyond “six figures.”
The group will air a television commercial in Washington on shows including the early-morning “Fox & Friends,” which Trump is known to watch, as well as in digital ads nationwide. The campaign launches during a consequential week on trade, with a three-day hearing starting Tuesday on the proposed Chinese tariffs, and high-level talks expected between U.S. and Chinese negotiators.
“We thought it was a very effective way to communicate what would happen with tariffs if they were imposed, both in terms of the U.S. economy and also how it might affect ordinary Americans,” said David French, the NRF’s senior vice president for government relations.
In John Hughes’ movie, Stein drones on to his class about how the Republican-controlled House passed the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act of 1930 to alleviate the effects of the Great Depression, but it didn’t work.
The 30-second ad mimics that scene, and ends with Stein saying, “Tariffs raise taxes on hard-working Americans. It’s not complicated. Tariffs are B-A-D economics, bad economics. Bad.” Text on the screen says, “Tell Washington: Tariffs are B-A-D economics.”
The ad will air this week on “Fox & Friends” and “Saturday Night Live” in Washington, as well as on “Roseanne” in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the comedy’s highest-rated market, according to the federation. Trump praised the first episode of the sitcom reboot in March after the character played by actress Roseanne Barr defended her support for Trump in the 2016 election.
The federation and other industry groups have been lobbying individually and as a coalition against the tariffs, which Trump has proposed on as much as $150 billion in goods for China’s alleged theft of intellectual property and unfair trade practices. China has vowed to retaliate with duties on U.S. products, prompting fears of a trade war.
In addition to the ad campaign, studies have been commissioned with the Consumer Technology Association estimating that the tariffs would force U.S. consumers to pay $711 million more than they otherwise would have for televisions alone, and cost the U.S. almost 134,000 jobs.
Companies and industry groups are generally supportive of U.S. action to level the playing field on trade and investment with China, although many want the talks to focus on resolving differences rather than the pursuit of tariffs.
China Vice Premier Liu He will travel to Washington as early as this week for trade discussions, after a U.S. delegation to Beijing earlier in the month, led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, failed to reach a deal to resolve outstanding trade concerns.
The U.S. is holding a public hearing starting Tuesday in Washington that had to be extended to three days from one to allow about 130 opponents and proponents to testify, before the administration decides whether to go ahead with the tariffs after a comment period ends May 22. Companies are calling for products to be both removed from, and in some cases added to, the list of 1,300 goods targeted for tariffs, which covers everything from snow blowers to microscopes to false teeth.
“Right now, I think the American public is not completely tuned into the tariff debate,” said French, who plans to testify at the hearing. The ad with Stein emphasizes “a very important economics lesson of what happens when trade wars break out,” he said.
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