Imagine a situation where you have enough medicine to save the life of your friend today. Or you could let that person die but next year have enough medicine to potentially save two lives. Which do you pick? You decide to save the life of the person in front of you. Did you save a life, or did you kill two people? This isn’t a moral question, it’s simply a matter of math. And it’s something lost on a lot of lawmakers.

Aside from funneling taxpayer money into your district, one of the best things a lawmaker can do is preserve jobs in that district. Sugar production in the US is limited to just a few locations, notably south Florida. We farm our sugar here in the US, but we aren’t actually competitive on the world stage of sugar. So to protect local jobs in places like south Florida, we’ve enacted policies that impose hefty tariffs on sugar imported from other parts of the world. As a result, we pay far more for sugar than the rest of the world.

Lawmakers either don’t care or are unaware that these sugar policies protect a few jobs here in the US at the expense of more jobs. The job they can see gets protection, and the ones they can’t are left to defend themselves. For one example, candy makers are increasingly moving jobs across borders to take advantage of cheaper candy prices. Confectionary manufacturing in the US has fallen 22% from the late 90s until now, and while all of that can’t be blamed on a tariff directly, candy manufacturers regularly cite it as a big reason they’re moving overseas. According to the Commerce Department, three candy-making jobs are lost for every sugar growing job the tariffs save.

This hardly sounds like a good deal. And it’s maddening when the tariff is supported in the name of protecting jobs. If three jobs are lost for each job protected, it’s bad economic policy. Congressman Tom Rooney has been a strong supporter of sugar tariffs for this reason, but also state that this protects Americans from an OPEC-like situation for our food. The world’s sugar production comes from more American friendly countries than oil, but you can read the Republican from a south Florida district that just happens to be one of the largest sugar-producing regions in the country’s point here.

The argument for protecting sugar jobs can be made for just about anything we import. Think about all the technology we import from China. If we want to protect our national interests, we should heavily subsidize technology manufacturing in the US to keep those jobs and our country safe. Our sugar tariff is bad economic policy and throwing OPEC or national security into the mix is merely a fear tactic. If we had a better understanding of this policy and the weak arguments made to support it, we might be able to kill the thing.

Read: Cheaper Sugar Sends Candy Makers Abroad (WSJ)

Image: Tom Allender

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categories: business, economics, government, jobs