Here Is A Great Issue for "Progressives." Somehow I Doubt They Will Run With It

From Daniel Griswold in the Washington Times:

President Obama and the other Group of 20 leaders delivered their obligatory warning against protectionism at last week's summit in Pittsburgh. But at home the U.S. president continues to conduct his own trade war, not only against imports from China and other developing countries, but against the most vulnerable of American consumers.

America's highest remaining trade barriers are aimed at products mostly grown and made by poor people abroad and disproportionately consumed by poor people at home. While industrial goods and luxury products typically enter under low or zero tariffs, the U.S. government imposes duties of 30 percent or more on food and lower-end clothing and shoes - staple goods that loom large in the budgets of poor families....

The tariff the president imposed on Chinese tires earlier this month was heavily biased against low-income American families. The affected tires typically cost $50 to $60 each, as compared with the unaffected tires that sell for $200 each. The result of the tariff will be an increase in lower-end tire prices of 20 percent to 30 percent. Low-income families struggling to keep their cars on the road will be forced to postpone replacing old and worn tires, putting their families at greater risk....

A few liberal Democrats still care, too. Edward Gresser of the Democratic Leadership Council has done more than anyone to expose the unfair, anti-poor bias of the U.S. tariff code.

In his 2007 book "Freedom From Want: American Liberalism and the Global Economy," he calculated that a single mother earning $15,000 a year as a maid in a hotel will forfeit about a week's worth of her annual pay to the U.S. tariff system, while the hotel's $100,000-a-year manager will give up only two or three hours of pay.


  1. Anon:

    Cap and trade, cash for clunkers, chinese tire tariffs.

    The poor should not drive. It's for the good of Mother Earth.

  2. Fred from Canuckistan . . .:

    "Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm-- but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves."

  3. Steve:

    I consider myself a "progressive" and I entirely agree with you about tariffs (and always have).

    There are very few reasons where I can see a tariff as being anything other than detrimental to all involved, and the impact of tariffs is, generally speaking, most strongly felt by lower income people (including sugar tariffs, which aren't mentioned above, but which you've mentioned previously). Aside from job-protectionism (which never works!), I can't see why anyone would ever support tariffs.

    Indeed, I can't think of an acceptable tariff at the moment; I can only think of economic sanctions (which, although ineffective, are at least economically "moral" when faced with regimes such as North Korea or Burma).

    As a "progressive" (and former commenter on issues, like London's congestion charge), I do rather enjoy subscribing to your blog (by RSS). We certainly don't see eye-to-eye on everything (in particular health care), but I do appreciate your viewpoint more than any conservative or libertarian I've ever encountered before.

    I do believe that there is a considerable (social) overlap between libertarians and progressives - the differences tend to make themselves known in the economic/financial side of the equation.

    Thanks for keeping up with this blog.

    And, re: health care, I've lived in the USA, the UK, and Canada, (and I'm familiar with the French and Swiss systems). I can safely say that the only country I've ever encountered difficulty in accessing treatment was the USA, and my longest waits for treatment have been in the USA (with Healthnet and Aetna at various points). I do know that anecdote =/= data, but I do also know that access is much less of a problem in other countries. And, as much as The Sun/WSJ/FT may say otherwise, rationing isn't a problem here - people are still free to spend their money on private care/insurance to "top up" in most countries. The NHS, for example, cuts insurance rates for private insurance, as the NHS covers "catastrophic" and "basic;" while BUPA will fill in for expensive drugs and private hospital rooms, etc.

    In other words, public health care =/= public housing, as you're so often saying. Public health care means a solid foundation to whatever house you are building, or perhaps it's a modest bungalow that you're free to add on to, but which provides a basic level of cover to all. Perhaps that's where my "progressiveness" comes in: I do believe everyone has a right to have some health care, even if it is of a modest standard. I believe we have a responsibility to provide that to everyone.

  4. Mesa Econoguy:

    No, Steve, there is no “responsibility” to provide anything. That is an individual responsibility best administered by individuals, not amorphous, impotent bureaucracies.

    Going down that road is incredibly dangerous. As Fred presciently alludes to above, you have no concept of opportunity cost or the harm you cause to others by believing this, and acting on that misguided belief.

    Progressives are hopelessly self-absorbed morons.

  5. MGW:

    It's incredible to me that people always manage to frame tariffs as a tax/punishment for the foreign company. In reality, it's a tax on ourselves. If the government charges a tire company a 20% tariff, then guess who's going to be paying 20% more for tires? It's just so counterintuitive that it's hard to believe. If people really did want to spend 20% more on tires to help a few union employees, they should have simply spent more to buy american-made tires. Everything about our country makes it seems as though people want things as cheaply as possible and yet there's a populist protectionism that wants us to pay more for everything.

    It really just doesn't make sense.

  6. Greg Smith:

    This should have the effect of raising the prices of tires for everyone, just like the minimum wage ultimately works it's way up into the higher pay grades. In any case while there are many products I'd buy from China with no issue, some - like baby formula, vitamins, and tires I only want from countries with a reputation for quality control. I wouldn't put Chinese-made tires on my family minivan even if they were free.

    -Greg Smith