Cultural Revolutions

Imposing Tariffs

The steel tariff may become a major issue in this year’s presidential campaign, placing Howard Dean in the odd position (for a Democratic candidate, at least) of attacking President Bush for caving in to a decision of an international body—in this case, the World Trade Organization.  But then, over its 21-month life, this tariff has made for some rather strange bedfellows.

For instance, many libertarians—not usually fans of the WTO, which they generally regard as restricting free trade rather than facilitating it—applauded the trade agency’s action, even though it trampled on U.S. sovereignty by striking down a constitutionally enacted tax.  The Constitution is a document to be revered—except, it seems, when it allows things that violate libertarian principles.

The protectionist right, of course, took the opposite view, praising Bush when he imposed the tariff on European, Asian, and South American steel in March 2002 and damning the administration for backing down in December in the wake of threats by the European Union to impose retaliatory sanctions on American products if Bush chose not to abide by the WTO’s decision.  While right on the sovereignty question—the very fact that an international agency demanded the tariff be removed was almost reason enough to retain it—these commentators are as dogmatic as the libertarians, endorsing protectionism on...

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