Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk - A weekly Column

December 13, 1999

International Protectionism
Cause for Protest

We all saw the recent demonstrations at the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle. Although many of those who were protesting were indeed rallying against what they see as the evils of free trade and capitalist markets, the real problem when it comes to the World Trade Organization is not free trade. The WTO is the furthest thing from free trade. Instead, it is an egregious attack upon our national sovereignty, and this is the reason why we must vigorously oppose it. No nation can maintain its sovereignty if it surrenders its authority to an international collective. And, since sovereignty is linked inextricably to freedom, our very notion of American liberty is at stake in this issue.

Let's face it, free trade means trade without interference from governmental or quasi-governmental agencies. The WTO is a quasi-governmental agency and hence it is not accurate to describe it as a vehicle of free trade. Let's call a spade a spade. The WTO is nothing other than a vehicle for managed trade whereby the politically connected, campaign contributors and fat cats get the benefits of exercising their position as a preferred group. Preferred that is, by the Washington and international political and bureaucratic establishments.

As a representative of the people of the 14th district of Texas and a member of the United States Congress, sworn to uphold the Constitution of this country, it is not my business to tell other countries whether or not they should be in the WTO. They can toss their own sovereignty out the window if that is the choice they make. Thus, I cannot tell China or Britain or anybody else that they should not join the WTO. That is not my constitutional role. I can, however, say that the United States of America ought to withdraw its membership and funding from the WTO immediately.

If we had a true understanding of the idea of sovereignty, and of free trade, I believe we would make the right decision immediately. Thus, on this issue, our primary objective must be education.

We need to better explain that the founding fathers believed that tariffs were meant to raise revenues, not to erect trade barriers. American colonists even before the War for Independence understood the difference. One only need read John Dickenson's Letters from a Pennsylvania Farmer to discover this.

When our founding fathers drafted the constitution, they placed the Treaty making authority with the President and the Senate but the authority to regulate commerce with the House. The effect of this is obvious. The founders left us with a system that made no room for agreements regarding international trade. Hence, our nation was to be governed not by protection but rather by market principles. Trade barriers were not to be erected, period.

A revenue tariff was to be a major contributor to the U.S. treasury, but only to fund the limited and constitutionally authorized responsibilities of the federal government, thus the tariff would be low. The colonists and founders clearly recognized that tariffs are taxes on American consumers, they are not truly taxes on foreign companies. This realization was made obvious by the British government's regulation of trade with the colonies, but it is a realization that has apparently been lost by today's protectionists. Simply, protectionists seem to fail even to realize that raising the tariff is a tax hike on the American people.

While condemning the violence, we should celebrate the idea that political debate in this nation has turned some attention, if only briefly, to the WTO. Now we must take this opportunity and, in fact, never cease to explain the true problems created by this entity. Namely, that it is an assault on sovereignty and an affront to freedom. When we make that case more successfully, we will be able to move the politicians toward getting us out of the WTO.