Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Trade Wars Between States?

Free trade exists between all the states and it is one of the infrequently discussed benefits of the United States. The individual states do not impose special tariffs on goods from the other states and we all use the same currency in the US.

Minnesota wants to impose a carbon tax on goods made in North Dakota that use coal produced electricity. The goal of reducing coal plant emissions is admirable. It benefits the health of its citizens and reduces carbon dioxide emissions. If the Minnesota precedent catches on, free trade will cease to exist in the US to the detriment of the entire country's residents. Read "Minnesota levies world's first carbon tariff...against North Dakota"

Fortunately, the US constitution protects interstate commerce among the states. The constitution also prevents states from imposing tariffs on imports or exports.

Unfortunately, once a state imposes some form of tariff on another state's exported goods or services, such as Minnesota's carbon tariff on imported goods, it will be left to the US Supreme Court to decide the legality of the action. Any written decision of the court, even one that overturns the state import tariff, risks defining the legal boundaries of acceptable restrictions on goods imported from the other states.

An interstate carbon tax is a bad model that will result in other states attempting to enforce their own economic, scientific, moral and ethical philosophies on the other states. States could tax non-union labor goods, or goods from states that have right to work laws. States with high unemployment will attempt to find ways to prevent imported goods from lower unemployment states that produce competitive products.

The possibilities of finding and using distinctions between one state and another to set import duties and restrictions are boundless.

Hopefully, the US Supreme Court will eventually stop this type of action without sending any signals of legal ways to do it.

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