On Monday, Donald Trump imposed a 30 percent tariff on imported solar panel technology, mostly targeted at Chinese solar panel manufacturers whose prices have become dramatically more competitive in recent years.
This means whatever a foreign company's price is for solar panel parts, the U.S. will make American businesses and households pay 30% more – and it will go right to the U.S. Treasury.
The problem with this for conservatives is sevenfold:
1) It's a tax increase. Which is not fiscally conservative and goes against the campaign mantra that a Trump administration would lower taxes for everyone.
It's a major tax increase on a specific industry, and on any business or household that wants to save money by taking advantage of the increasingly cost effective manufacturing techniques that have driven solar panel prices down.
2) It's a regulation. This is an administration bragging about deregulating, but here is the president, in an act of severe executive overreach, unilaterally telling American companies and households who they're allowed to buy from and how much money they're allowed to save. That's not conservative at all.
3) It's a bailout. Frankly, it's just a bailout for a narrow slice of Americans like the Suniva and SolarWorld Americas solar panel companies who can't keep their prices low enough to stay in business when American businesses and consumers have an option that saves them more money.
The U.S. at Trump's direction, is bailing out these companies and socializing their losses to the rest of us instead of letting them fail like the free market would. The entire reason the Tea Parties happened in 2009 was in opposition to the TARP bailouts of Wall Street banks, which Barack Obama voted for as a senator and continued to support and oversee as president.
Bailouts are not conservative.
4) It's wealth redistribution. The reason bailouts aren't conservative is because they are a form of wealth redistribution, government robbing Peter (in this case, the entire American economy) to pay Paul (a narrow slice of special interests who are being rewarded by Trump with other people's money for lobbying, instead of rewarded by businesses and families with their own money for providing a good product at a competitive price.
5) It's government picking winners and losers. Conservatives believe government should be about making sure everyone is safe, not about picking who wins and loses in a fair economic competition in a free market.
It's not just China that loses, it's any American who isn't in a failing solar panel company, including the 80 percent of the American solar panel industry that sells or installs imports, or makes panels from imported parts.
6) It's price fixing. The market should set prices based on the realities of what's possible, not government bureaucrats based on the desire to maintain the pipe dream of a world that never changes and never disrupts anybody's business model. And when government fixes prices, it always has unintended consequences.
7) It's a job killer. One unintended consequence of this tariff is killing jobs. The Washington D.C.-based Solar Energy Industries Association predicts these tariffs will kill 23,000 American jobs.
Conservatives since before Barry Goldwater have opposed government economic interventions and supported the free market instead, believing that individual, households, and businesses should "pick winners and losers" in a free and competitive economy by spending their money with businesses that provide the best goods and services at the best price.
When central planning bureaucrats in government decide where America's money should go, instead of allowing the people to decide through an innumerable number of individual financial choices between different economic alternatives, it results in less prosperity for society as a whole.
It's impossible for a few central planners to really know where so many resources should be going. The free market is not perfect, but it does coordinate all of the specialized knowledge every economic actor has through their many individual buying decisions and the price system to marvelously compute where resources should be allocated in a way that has made the world prosperous to a degree our recent ancestors couldn't have imagined.
And corruption and abuse are sure to arise from the power to coerce resources out of people through the force of government regulation and confiscatory taxation instead of enticing resources from them by providing something in return that they agree is worth the exchange.
A captive audience may have to endure through yawns and blank stares, a speaker they're not really interested in listening to. And a captive customer is just as likely to find they're not really getting their money's worth.
Which is something free market, fiscally conservative Republican donors might need to start wondering about the ex-Democrat from New York City who sits in the Oval Office today. Are they really getting their money's worth?