Obama and the Protectionist War Against the Poor
SEPTEMBER 16, 2009
After President Barack Obama unilaterally slapped a 35 percent tariff on Chinese-made tires imported to the United States, I checked the Usual Sites to see if there were any objections to this latest government assault against lower-income Americans.
I flyspecked the New York Times, and while there were editorials and columns condemning Serena Williams’s outburst at the U.S. Open and a call for lawmakers to criminalize “texting” while driving, the was silent about the tariff. Likewise, I saw nothing on the sites that claim to care about the poor, from the leftist “God’s Politics” blog to the Daily Kos and the Huffington Post.
This should be amazing, but it is not. However, before I explain why I believe this latest presidential action to be especially harmful to the poor, let me first say that most people on the left who claim to care about the poor really don’t care what happens to them. Poor people are a great prop, a nice bit of background, for those who push the collectivist agenda. We know that throughout history, collectivism always has been a disaster for the poor, and from India to Cuba to North Korea to Haiti, state control and interference in peaceful, private exchange has forced many people to live in absolute squalor.
(India has been undergoing changes and has become friendlier to private enterprise, as has China and other former communist countries, but the Indian bureaucracy has been resistant in giving up its power over the lives of ordinary people. Nonetheless, whenever governments give up even some power to control economic exchange, we see higher living standards for large numbers of people.)
Why have these “we love the poor” leftists and left-liberals been silent in the aftermath of this terrible deed? It is because they are slavishly tied to labor unions, which have promoted this latest outrage. In fact, unions always have supported protectionism, from the infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff to President Ronald Reagan’s “voluntary” quotas for Japanese auto imports.
On the other side, the people accused of “supporting the rich” have reacted vociferously against this new tariff. From the Wall Street Journal to the Foundation for Economic Education, writers have rightly condemned this new policy as being anticonsumer and a danger to us all. I will add one more argument against it.
Before doing so, however, I wish to point out that by historical and constitutional standards, the President is on shaky ground, made shakier by the abdication of Congress and the courts to “protect and defend” the Constitution. The Law of the land clearly states that it is Congress that has the power to levy taxes, and tariffs, be they revenue or protectionist tariffs, are taxes.
There is nothing–nothing–in the Constitution that permits the executive branch to impose a tax. While it is true that Congress has passed legislation that gives the president the authority to impose tariffs in certain situations, nonetheless Congress has done so in violation of separation of powers, and the courts have done nothing to stop it.
As for the tax, it is imposed on something that anyone who drives needs: tires. What happens when government artificially raises the price of a good–which is the intent of Obama’s latest move? People buy less of it, and that includes tires.
What will happen–and this is an absolute certainty–is that people will put off buying new tires and will drive longer on their worn ones. This will lead to more accidents, more injuries, and more deaths. People in lower-income brackets will be more likely to bear the brunt of this policy.
Obama imposed new tariffs (which will lead to retaliation by the Chinese, as we have already seen) to please some of the highest-paid workers in the world: American union members. The lower-paid workers in our country, however, will pay the deadly price, all in the name of “social justice” and “protecting American workers.”