SO WHATS YOUR favorite charity, the industry that manufactures television sets? Or the shoe manufacturers? How about the U.S. sugar producers? They're all standing at the White House gate these days, bleating piteously for protection from foreign imports. They keep calling through the fence to President Carter for help.
The federal government's International Trade Commission has recommended a rich mixture of tariffs and quotas to hel them out. The ITC is well known for its charitable impulses - and for its extreme responsiveness to senators whose states produce shoes, television sets and sugar. President Carter now has to decide whether to accept the ITC's bad advice. If he doesn't, Congress can override him. All those industries gathering in plaintive expectancy on Mr. Carter's doorstep want to tell him how they're being undersold and overpowered.
It's true that jobs are at stake. It's also true, unfortunately, that trade protection doesn't come free. Tariffs and quotas mean higher prices to the consumer. That, in turn, means higher inflation.
The ITC wants to raise the tariff on television sets from the present 5 per cent to 25 per cent. That, according to one government estimate, might create some 8,000 jobs - at a cost to the consumer of $400 million a year in higher prices. That's $50,000 a year for every job, or just about four times the average production worker's earnings.
The balance is even farther out of whack in the case of shoes. The ITC itself suggests that its prescription of tariffs and quotas might cost consumers a mere $170 million a year, to save 10,000 jobs. But another government agency, the Council on Wage and Price Stability, has the job of monitoring inflation and it has calculated that the proposed protection for the shoemakers could run to a shocking $2.4 billion a year. At that price, it would be cheaper for the country o retire the shoemakers to Palm Beach estates, with golf club memberships included.
As for sugar, the ITC has recommended reducing the present imports quotas to bring the price up from 11 cents to 14 cents a pound. Multiply that three-cent increase by the 22 billion pounds of sugar that Americans consume every year, and you get the cost of the new quota to the national economy; $660 million a year. The sugar-using industries would absorb part, and consumers would pay the rest.
But it isn't imports that are squeezing the U.S. sugar producers hardest. It's rising competition from sweeteners made from corn. The corn syrups are expanding their markets at the expense of sugar. What the U.S. sugar industry wants - and what the ITC recommends - is tighter import quotas to make foreign producers bear the brunt of this domestic competion.
If President Carter goes along with these demands for tariffs and quotas, foreign countries will retaliate against American exports. Protectionism can save some Americans' jobs in a few industries, but only by jeopardizing other Americans' jobs in other industries - those that can compete worldwide. There's a better solution. When expanding trade destroys jobs, it's certainly unfair to let that whole burden lie on the unlucky few who happened to hold those jobs. That's why Congress has provided adjustment assistance. It's federal financial support to working people and to companies to help them move into other fields. Adjustment assistance is a sound concept. If Congress doesn't think the present level of assistrance is adequate, the answer is to raise it rather than retreating behind new tariffs and quotas.