It was a spooky Halloween for sure as the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) recommended to the White House on Tuesday to impose tariffs of up to 35 percent on imports of foreign-manufactured solar panels. Tariffs are taxes placed on imports, usually used to handicap foreign goods by making domestic goods comparatively cheap. The ITC recommendation comes after two American solar manufacturers, undercut by foreign competition, petitioned the commission to consider a tariff, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. The White House has until January to decide what, if any, action it will take.
While tariffs protect American jobs by making domestic firms comparatively competitive, they also raise prices for consumers and reduce competition, ultimately hurting far more Americans than they benefit. The ITC’s recommendation is particularly disappointing considering the nature of the solar technologies that will be more expensive should the White House follow through with the tariffs. As the environmental crisis worsens and climate change intensifies, the United States has no choice but to set the example in divesting from fossil fuels. The ITC’s recommendation is certainly a step in the wrong direction. Solar technology plays a crucial role in the United States’ effort to move toward clean energy, and artificially raising the price of solar panels and cells does nothing but discourage American consumers from making an effort to utilize sustainable forms of energy.
It’s time for the federal government to stop subsidizing non-competitive industries and corporations at the expense of the American consumer, the environment, and the human race. A spokesperson for Suniva, one of the solar technology companies that petitioned the ITC to enact tariffs, told the Wall Street Journal, “[the tariff recommendation] simply will not fix the problem the ITC itself has identified, and with it, we’ll see very shortly the extinction of what remains of this manufacturing sector, and the jobs of American workers.” The American economy is founded on the basis of competition. Tariffs, when used to safeguard domestic industries, directly violate that principle. Government intervention in markets reduces competition, driving out innovation and driving up prices. If Suniva and other domestic solar technology companies cannot compete in the market, then they should refine their manufacturing process to drive prices down, innovate a new technology that increases demand, or simply fail. The federal government should not be the crutch of private corporations at the expense of the very people they are supposed to serve.
Not only is it inexcusable for the federal government to insert itself into markets in order to gain political capital amongst certain voter demographics (i.e. blue collar and manufacturing voters), it is particularly disgusting in the case of renewable energy technology. Solar, wind, hydroelectric, and other forms of clean energy technology are the key to a sustainable future for our planet and our descendants. This technology needs to be as good as it can be, and the most efficient way to achieve innovation is through free, competitive markets. Should the White House and President Trump choose to enact the recommended tariffs, a not unlikely scenario considering protecting domestic manufacturing was a cornerstone of Trump’s 2016 campaign, they will not only be making it harder for consumers to access solar panels and cells, they will be reducing the rate at which this critical technology is incubated and perfected. I urge President Trump to think with a perspective beyond four-year election cycles and understand how harmful these tariffs will be.