Do We Need A Democracy Tariff?

Dave Johnson

We need a Democracy Tariff, imposed at the border on goods that are brought in from countries where the people have not been able to build a strong democracy that protects their workers, wages and environment.

Yesterday in Exporting Jobs Is Not “Trade.” It Evades Democracy’s Protections I wrote that … well … exporting jobs is not “trade.” Packing up a factory here to send the jobs there, and then bringing the same goods that factory was making back here to sell is done for one and only one reason. It is done to get around the wage, safety and environmental protections that We, the People fought to build.

We formed this country and we fought to build protections that brought us a reasonably good life, and a middle class, and some security – social security – so we don’t always have to be struggling and living on the edge of a cliff, surviving only at the whim of a wealthy few with all the power. We fought a revolution against government by a wealthy and powerful few, and we fought again and again to keep and protect government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Our wage, safety and environmental protections are the result of our democracy. We, the People fought and built a government to empower and protect us, to provide good wages and provide some security and that involves rules that limit what the owners of companies can do — regulations. We build up a system of public structures like courts, laws, schools, roads, bridges — spending – that enable commerce to prosper. And we ask those who benefit from that commerce we enabled to share the return on our investment with us — taxes and wages.

Democracy, government, regulations, spending, taxes. The stronger each of these are, the better We, the People do. The weaker they are, the worse off we are.

Lately wealthy corporate owners — who benefit from the commerce that our democracy, government, regulations, spending and taxes enabled — have found another way to get around these protections that We, the People built for ourselves. They move manufacturing and jobs to countries where the people have not been able to build strong democracies to protect their interests, and then bring the goods made by the exploited workers there back here to sell. They call that “trade” when really it is just a way to get around the borders that we are able to protect. As I wrote yesterday,

These workers make the same products that had been made here, sell them in the same stores here, but make them outside of the boundaries of our democratically-won protections. And to make things worse, the companies then demand wage and benefit cuts from the workers who are still here, claiming that “globalization” means they now have to compete with workers with no rights, so they must accept less.

There is a solution to this problem. These protections that we built brought us prosperity. And that means we have a strong market. Everyone in the world wants to be able to sell to us, and we can use that power to set the rules for access to our markets.

A Democracy Tariff

We should not let exploitation of workers and the environment be a competitive advantage that is used against the democratic protections we have built for ourselves. We can set a “Democracy Tariff” on goods that come from countries that do not protect their workers and/or environment. This tariff should be enough to offset the competitive advantage that comes from exploiting workers and the environment. If those countries do not change we can use the revenue from the tariff to build our infrastructure and strengthen our competitive position. If those countries do change, all the better, because as democracy strengthens there, the people will prosper and can trade fairly with us to buy things we make here. Everyone is better off when trade is free and fair.

There are degrees of democracy and there can be degrees of Democracy Tariff. For example, some countries might protect workers but not the environment. The tariff on goods from those countries should be enough to offset the advantage gained from exploiting the environment but not as high as for countries that exploit both workers and the environment. Other countries might have some degree of protections but not allow unionization. The tariff should be enough to offset whatever degree of exploitation is at work.

If a Democracy Tariff is called “protectionism” so be it. We have learned the hard way that democracy is fragile and must be protected.

We must not allow exploitation of workers and the environment to be a “comparative advantage” used against our democracy — government of the people, by the people and for the people — and the protections and prosperity it has brought us.