The move slaps a 25 percent levy on steel and 10 percent charge on aluminum. White House officials have said the tariffs are an essential matter of domestic and economic security, but Summers said that 40 times as many people work in steel-using industries as work in steel-producing industries.
"I don't see that the steel tariffs are a prudent bit of public policy," he said, calling it "a bit of a 'Stop, or I'll shoot myself in the foot' kind of strategy."
All told, he said, the "risks to the American economy from the steel tariffs are far greater than the risks from the absence of the steel tariffs."
One argument for the tariffs is that they could put a trading partner into a bad enough position that it would relent to U.S. demands before harm was done to the American economy. At least regarding China, Summers deemed that unlikely.
"I don't know what damage they'll do China, I just think that they'll do damage to the American economy even before China retaliates," he said.