Commentary

Damaging Taxes on Trade

By Daniel Griswold
This article appeared in the Washington Post on October 5, 2006.

The Sept. 20 front-page article “A Quiet Break for Corporations,” about the suspension of miscellaneous tariffs, supposedly revealed another pork-barrel scandal. The real scandal is not that U.S.-based producers seek relief from damaging tariffs but rather that those tariffs exist in the first place.

For years, Congress has voted on tariff bills that suspend a hodgepodge of duties on obscure products that often are not even made in the United States. These tariffs only make it more expensive for Americans to buy certain products.

Since when is it the duty of the government to protect producers against competition? If Americans can buy dog collars more cheaply from a foreign maker, the federal government should keep its nose out of the deal.

One example in the story involved the proposed suspension of duties on basketballs imported by the Spalding sporting goods company. But why should American kids pay more for basketballs, and why should American companies suffer for it?

Import duties invite corruption by giving the government power over a range of otherwise innocent and private transactions. The Post cites lobbying and campaign donations by companies seeking removal of the tariffs as though they were damning. But the real scandal is not that these companies are trying to change laws that harm them, it’s that they need to seek such relief in the first place.

Daniel Griswold is director of the Cato Institute Center for Trade Policy Studies.