“National Security”: The Last Refuge of Vote-Buying Politicians

Bethlehem Steel works, "Watercolor in sep...
Bethlehem Steel works, “Watercolor in sepia brown, white and gray, on buff paper. Signed May ’81.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

More than half a century ago, Congress passed the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.  Since mid-April, US president Donald Trump has twice invoked one of the law’s nearly forgotten provisions, ordering Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross to investigate the possibility that steel and aluminum imports “threaten to impair the national security.”

If Ross says they do and Trump agrees, the law empowers him to “take such action, and for such time, as he deems necessary to adjust the imports of such article and its derivatives so that such imports will not so threaten to impair the national security.”

Keep in mind that when a president orders “investigations” of this sort it’s not for the purpose of arriving at the truth of the matter, but rather for the purpose of getting the answers he wants to hear so that he can claim justification for doing the things he wants to do.


For that reason, I can confidently predict that in the near future we’ll see restrictions on the importation of aluminum and steel, in the name of, but not actually for the purpose of, enhancing “national security.” In fact, those restrictions will have exactly the opposite effect.

Trade is one of the best guarantors of peace. Economist Otto T. Mallery perhaps overstated it a bit in saying that when goods don’t cross borders, armies will. But it should at least be obvious that when goods DO cross borders, armies are less likely to cross those same borders. Merchants and customers who are happy with each other don’t look for fights with each other.

If “national security” is just an excuse, what is the real reason? Why does Trump want to ban — or at least drastically reduce — steel and aluminum imports?

If you have to ask why, the answer is usually “money.” In this case, it’s “money and votes.”

Trump’s narrow victory in last year’s presidential election came down to a few tens of thousands of votes from Rust Belt workers who believed he would “bring the jobs back.” He wants to keep his promise — or, at least, he wants to keep their votes for his party in 2018 and himself in 2020. He also wants the financial and political support of American companies benefiting from captive steel and aluminum markets.

But of course there’s a catch. If American companies don’t have to compete with foreign steel and aluminum producers, they can raise prices. Let’s play a little game invented by 19th century French economist Frederic Bastiat. It’s called “That Which is Seen, and that Which is Not Seen.”

Seen: More workers, with more jobs, making more money in the steel and aluminum industries.

Not seen: The things you won’t be able to buy because you’re paying more for products made of steel and aluminum.

Donald Trump is buying the votes and support of American steel and aluminum (and timber — he just slapped a tariff on the Canadian lumber that constitutes 1/3 of the American market) workers and employers. And he’s buying those things with your money.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


Torturing the Truth: The Tax Cut Debate vs. the English Language

Hundreds (RGBStock)

On April 26, the Trump administration released a one-page summary of its tax reform proposals. The following morning, US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin appeared on CBS This Morning to discuss those proposals. Co-anchor Norah O’Donnell didn’t waste any time ham-handedly injecting  the mainstream media’s dishonest narrative-shaping language into the conversation.

“As you mentioned this would be historic tax cuts [sic],” her first question began. “Estimated to cost the American taxpayer $7 trillion over a decade. So when will you tell us how you will pay for it?”

Unfortunately Mnuchin played along: “In regards to the pay for [sic], I don’t know how people can estimate the cost since we don’t haven’t released all the details, but this is going to be paid for by economic growth and by a reduction of many, many deductions in special interest.”

O’Donnell tried to put two ginormous lies over on her viewers. And Mnuchin let her get away with it.

Tax cuts don’t “cost the American taxpayer” anything. Quite the opposite, in fact. Taxation takes money from taxpayers and gives that money to politicians. Tax cuts leave some of that money in the taxpayers’ pockets.

Tax cuts don’t “cost the government” anything either. The money the politicians aren’t taking as taxes wasn’t theirs in the first place. They didn’t create the wealth it represents, the taxpayers did. Not taking it isn’t a “cost,” any more than me not shoplifting a pair of shoes “costs” me footwear or constitutes “payment” by me to the shoe store.

Nor do tax cuts need to be “paid for.” Yes, the government will have less to spend if it takes less from those who earn it.  Spending cuts aren’t “payment” for tax cuts. They’re not “payment” for anything. In fact, they are the exact opposite of “payment.” They are, by definition, NON-“payment.”

If O’Donnell had phrased the question truthfully, it would have gone something like this:

“With these tax cuts, the government will take $7 trillion less from American taxpayers than it would have taken if the current rules were kept. What are you guys not going to buy that you would have bought if you had taken that $7 trillion?”

O’Donnell’s torture of the English language — and of the truth — implies that that $7 trillion just naturally belongs to the government rather than to the people it was to be taken from — that not taking it somehow constitutes a “cost”  both to those people and to the politicians who want the money. That’s the opposite of the truth.

Taxing is taking, not giving. Spending costs and not spending doesn’t. If there’s a good argument for either, that argument will be based on those facts, not on parlor tricks like O’Donnell’s sleight of word.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


NYC Gun Permit Scandal: Graft is Inevitable in a Corrupt System

Gun photo from RGBStock

“Two corrupt cops from the NYPD licensing division were plied with strippers, wined, dined and taken on lavish vacations to Mexico and the Bahamas,” reports the New York Daily News. Why? Because in return for nice things, they were allegedly willing to “expedite” the process of applying for and receiving gun permits.

Left unmentioned in the story is the other why. Why would someone be willing to blow that kind of money on gun permits?

Simple: Because New York City’s government requires such permits, then makes the process for getting them long (3-6 months), tedious (in addition to the application, up to nine pieces of paperwork and one or more “personal interviews”), expensive (a non-refundable application fee of $340, plus $87 for a fingerprint check) and, worst of all, discretionary.  After rolling around in all that red tape, maybe the police bureaucrat “assisting” you doesn’t like the way you look that day and it turns out you just wasted a bunch of time and money.

It’s unsurprising that a secondary industry would spring up to make the application process easier (although obviously more expensive). It’s equally unsurprising that people with more money than time would farm out their permit needs to that industry. And it’s not surprising at all that that industry would, if necessary, resort to bribery to deliver the goods.

The US Constitution is crystal clear on the subject at hand: “[T]he right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Legally conditioning exercise of that right on possession of a permit is most manifestly an infringement.

Additionally, leaving issuance of permits under the clearly unconstitutional scheme to the discretion of bureaucrats is a recipe for both tyranny and corruption.

Finally, as a practical matter, the permit scheme only wastes the time and money — and places at risk the lives — of those who choose to be “law-abiding.” Criminals who want to carry guns don’t apply for permits to do so. They’re criminals, remember? They don’t care if they’re breaking laws, nor do they want their identities tied to the guns they use in the commission of their crimes.

It might be going a bit far to describe cops who “expedite”  gun permits in return for cash bribes or favors as heroes. But they’re not nearly as corrupt as the system they’re accused of subverting. New York City needs to abandon its evil and unconstitutional “gun control” schemes.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.