The landscape in Washington, D.C., is populated with many memorials and monuments honoring our Founding Fathers for their vision and leadership. Americans who advocate free trade honor our Founding Fathers for various reasons, too, but that honor stops when they fail to recognize that our founders advocated protectionism and rejected (and even ridiculed) free trade.
Advocates of free trade and free markets will often insist that our U.S. Constitution is founded upon laissez-faire economic principles, and America rose to become an economic superpower through these principles. But nothing, however, could be further from the truth.
Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 1 of the Constitution gives our Congress the power to “To lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises (which shall be) uniform throughout the United States.”
Paragraph 3 empowers our U.S. Congress “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states.”
By any definition, taxes, tariffs, duties, and regulation are inconsistent with free trade, free markets, or laissez-faire economics. That’s because our U.S. Constitution never intended for us to engage in free trade with other nations without regulation, cost, or taxation.
To many Americans, free trade and the U.S. Constitution are synonymous with the principles on which our country was founded.
But the Constitution says nothing whatsoever about laissez faire economics, free markets or free trade. In fact, it says just the opposite by delegating to Congress specific powers and responsibilities to “regulate” commerce and currency, and to impose taxes “uniformly.”
Surely we cannot “establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence” and “promote the general Welfare” of “We the People” by establishing unconstitutional trade policies that work towards the economic benefit of foreign producers and foreign countries rather than to the benefit of our country and its producers.
Perhaps President William McKinley said it best: “The foreign producer has no right or claim to equality with our own. He is not amendable to our laws. There are resting upon him none of the obligations of citizenship. He pays no taxes. He performs no civil duties; he is subject to no demands for military service. He is exempt from state, county, and municipal obligations. He contributes nothing to the support, the progress, and the glory of the nation. Why should he enjoy unrestrained equal privileges and profits in our markets with our producers, our labor, and our taxpayers?”
And it’s difficult to be more protectionist that Abraham Lincoln when he said this: “I … would continue (trade) where it is necessary, and discontinue it, where it is not. As instance: I would continue commerce so far as it is employed in bringing us coffee, and I would discontinue it so far as it is employed in bringing us cotton goods.”
We will not “establish Justice” by refusing to protect American producers who abide by and absorb the cost of American laws from foreign producers who do not. We won’t “insure domestic tranquility” by intentionally putting Americans in unemployment lines so that we can transfer their work overseas. And we surely won’t “provide for the common defence” by employing workers in foreign countries who pay no taxes to America to “promote the general Welfare” for “We the People.”
Workers in China pay absolutely no taxes to America for the things that “We the People” have demanded from the use of those tax dollars. So we should stop claiming to be blindsided by the fact that we continue to accumulate persistent national trade and budget deficits and national debt.
Art. I, Sec. 8, Paragraph 1, of the U.S. Constitution states that “all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.”
Clearly, the U.S. Constitution is not a libertarian or laissez-faire document as some would have us believe.
If it was, then President George Washington immediately violated the U.S. Constitution when he signed the Tariff Act of 1789, which called for various tariffs on imports and “the encouragement and protection of manufacturing” in America. President George Washington signed this tariff bill into law on July 4, 1789, and it was the first major bill he signed after approving of the Seal of the United States.
Not only were our Founding Fathers against free trade, but so were several authors who lived in the same era and coined books on what was best for our economy. Daniel Raymond, author of “Thoughts on Political Economy” said the following in 1820:
“It is the duty of the legislator to find employment for all the people, and if he cannot find them employment in agriculture and commerce, he must set them to manufacturing. It is his duty to take special care that no other nation interferes with their industry. He is not to permit one half of the nation to remain idol and hungry, in order that the other half may buy goods where they may be had the cheapest.”
If free trade policies were actually working to the benefit of the majority of Americans, there would be no need for books like the one written in 2016 by Robert J. Gordon, titled “The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World).”
It’s no secret that wages have either stagnated or fallen since the mid-1970s (the last time we actually ran a trade surplus). In subscribing to free trade, we can only hope prices fall faster than wages, since pitting American workers against lower paid foreign producers will always drive down wages.
Our second president John Adams said, “Government is instituted for the common good: for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men.”
All four presidents whose faces are featured on Mt. Rushmore were protectionists, not free traders.
President Theodore Roosevelt once commented that tariffs “must never be reduced below the point that will cover the difference between the labor cost here and abroad. The well-being of the wage-worker is a prime consideration of our entire policy of economic legislation.”
Our current twin deficits (budget and trade) along with our bourgeoning national debt under free trade compared to our trade surpluses and lack of a national debt under mostly protectionist policies up until the mid-1970s should leave no doubt of the following: For the United States, free trade equals failure and protectionism equals prosperity.
Roger Simmermaker credits The Liberty Lobby for their contribution of content to this article.