If you’re into food policy you’ve certainly heard by now about the Bush Administration’s last minute decision to slap a punitive 300% tariff on Roquefort cheese. Because it’s, uh, French and stuff. Still, I thought this email from the owner of Cheesetique in Alexandria, VA was worth reprinting (the whole thing’s at Crispy):
I was shocked and awed not by that cavalier attack on our broad free-trade liberties, but by the specific violation featured prominently on the front page (albeit below the fold): little old Roquefort is under attack! That sublime product of lactation, coagulation, and fermentation has always held a special place in my heart, despite its high price tag and limited availability. Not only do I have a particular affection for Roquefort, but so do Cheesetique’s discerning customers, who marvel at its romantic story of creation, rustic approach to production even today, and exclusive availability. Your love of raw milk Roquefort has made it a staple in many of my cheese classes and one of the most popular and consistent sellers at Cheesetique. Since opening our doors more than four years ago, we have never been without Roquefort Papillon (I prefer this brand above others, though we have also carried Carles, which is outstanding). We have sold hundreds of pounds of Roquefort despite its title as the most expensive cheese consistently carried at Cheesetique. [...]
Why do I focus today on this seemingly insignificant example of protectionism at it worst when there are such large-scale issues to consider in our tumultuous time? For that reason exactly. There are so many huge examples of economic policies gone awry, totaling billions and trillions of dollars, and for that very reason, I point out this easily identifiable, but no less extreme violation of the American ways of free choice and trade.
As our own form of culinary protest, Cheesetique will continue to carry Roquefort until it is no longer available, which I assure you, will only be a matter of time. Not only will we continue to carry it, but its price will never exceed that which we pay for it. We encourage those of you that might have shied away from this pricey perfection in the past to come in and pick up a piece of one of the most historically significant and perfectly created foods in the world – at $20.00 per pound. Yes, you read correctly. $20 per pound.
Remember: Protectionism is bad. Roquefort is good. Long live the latter!
It’s a good thing our new cosmopolitan rulers are above such petty anti-foreign sentiment. Oh, wait:
Washington souvenirs worth $100,000 — including images of the Capitol dome and printings of the U.S. Constitution — are locked in storage, blocked from sale in the new U.S. Capitol Visitors Center because the items are made in China.
Rep. Bob Brady, D-Pennsylvania, chairman of the House Administration Committee, said he warned operators of the visitors center not to purchase merchandise made outside the United States, but they did it anyway.
Although the center has the goods in hand, Brady said, “I’m not allowing them to sell those products.”
His Administration Committee oversees operations in the House of Representatives, including the House restaurant, parking facilities and the Capitol Visitors Center. A spokesman for the committee said other House gift shops also are under restrictions on items made outside the United States.
Brady, whose district includes Philadelphia, insists that it’s wrong for tourists to return home with a souvenir from the nation’s capital that bears a “‘Made in China’ sticker.”
And it’s not just the little stuff, either:
The stimulus bill passed by the House last night contains a controversial provision that would mostly bar foreign steel and iron from the infrastructure projects laid out by the $819 billion economic package.
A Senate version, yet to be acted upon, goes further, requiring, with few exceptions, that all stimulus-funded projects use only American-made equipment and goods.
Proponents of expanding the “Buy American” provisions enacted during the Great Depression, including steel and iron manufacturers and labor unions, argue that it is the only way to ensure that the stimulus creates jobs at home and not overseas.
Stimulus advocates are fond of comparing our current situation to the Great Depression. Though the scale of the recession and the trade restrictions are nothing compared to that period yet, the comparison should give them pause. Dan Ikenson writes:
For all practical purposes there is no difference between the Smoot-Hawley tariff bill of 1930 and the “Buy American” provisions in the $819 billion spending bill that passed the House Wednesday.
Smoot-Hawley was the catalyst for a pandemic of tit-for-tat protectionism around the world, which helped deepen and prolong the global depression in the 1930s. “Buy American” provisions will no doubt inspire similar trade barriers abroad and will have the same effect of reducing global trade—and therefore prospects for economic recovery. It is not unreasonable to say that U.S. policymakers are on the verge of taking us down that same disastrous path.
The first acts of Obama’s presidency impressed even skeptics like me, but if we continue down this path McCain’s principled free trade policies are going to be sorely missed.