Just as Arizona’s construction industry scrambles to keep up with relentless commercial and residential demand, and the Gulf Coast struggles to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, the Bush administration has tossed another obstacle in the way that makes FEMA’s bungled disaster relief seem like a minor wrinkle.
It’s no secret that construction costs are on the rise, and part of the reason is enormous demand. But a big part also is artificially imposed inflation of building supplies under the guise of “anti-dumping” restrictions imposed by the Commerce Department. For several years the Bush administration has imposed high tariffs on Canadian lumber and European steel. More recently it’s added Mexican cement to the toxic and expensive mix, which could do what skyrocketing oil prices haven’t been able to do: slam the brakes on growth.
As the Wall Street Journal reported this week, domestic cement producers have followed the whiny lead of domestic timber and steel producers in claiming unfair trade practices by foreign countries are hurting their industries. President Bush, who talks a convincing free-trade line, has been all too willing to kowtow to the industry crybabies and slap on prohibitive tariffs, which inevitably have the net effect of hurting the U.S. economy and, more directly, U.S. consumers.
It would be understandable if the demands of Gulf Coast disaster reconstruction and Arizona’s prosperity were solely responsible for the construction-cost spike. But the irrefutable fact that it's due in large part to Bush administration pandering to favored industries is maddening — and unforgivable in light of Bush‘s professed free-trade mantra.
We’d call on Congress to correct this economy-stifling protectionism, but that probably would be asking too much, given the public’s free-trade skittishness that nearly killed the Central America Free Trade Agreement a few weeks ago. Perhaps as needlessly soaring construction costs continue to hit close to home, the public will realize that protectionism doesn’t protect at all. Ultimately it hurts us all. Badly.
The president should lift these prosperity-killing tariffs before they trigger another recession.