Do Republicans Still Support the Free Market?

Trump's Tariffs. DeSantis' War on Woke. Does the GOP still support the free market?
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How Can Republicans Be Pro-Business and Also Protect Our Constitutional Rights? 

By Benjamin Ayanian, Contributor, Young Voices, and Janet Pattison, State Committeewoman, Republican Party of Florida

Trump's Tariffs. DeSantis' War on Woke. Does the GOP still support the free market?

Republicans Are Turning Their Back on the Free Market

By Benjamin Ayanian – Contributor, Young Voices

Free markets are in peril as the Republican Party continues to shift away from its historical support for free trade and private enterprise. Many Republicans, much like members of the Democratic Party, now wish to influence private economic affairs by wielding the power of the state.

Enemies of Economic Freedom

The two leading candidates in the Republican primary—Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis—and many Republicans in Congress have proven to be no friends of economic freedom. During his time in the Oval Office, President Trump rebuked free trade and showcased an affinity for tariffs, taxing imports of steel, aluminum, solar panels, and even washing machines. He also imposed sweeping tariffs on Chinese goods. Under Trump’s policies, the government chose winners and losers, as tariffs benefit those who compete against imported goods but harm industries that depend on imports. Tariffs also injure exporting industries affected when foreign governments retaliate with their own trade restrictions. 

Florida governor and presidential candidate Ron DeSantis has spent a considerable portion of the last few years shunning free enterprise and attacking companies in his state. In 2021, he signed a law that would have prohibited large tech companies, but not small ones, from banning political candidates. The law also would have allowed citizens of Florida to sue Big Tech companies if they were de-platformed. According to DeSantis, the state ought to control how Big Tech moderates its content. However, a judge blocked this law before it went into effect and an appeals court ruled that the law was unconstitutional. DeSantis also took aim at the practices of private enterprises when he signed the Stop WOKE Act, which set out to ban discussions on race and gender as well as internal training practices in work and educational environments that discuss various forms of discrimination. In August of 2022, a judge ruled that DeSantis’ attempt to control the speech and training practices of private businesses was unconstitutional. 

An Uncertain Economic Future

In the Senate, J.D. Vance (R-OH) also wants to influence content moderation practices at tech firms. He specifically wants to open up certain tech platforms to liability by removing important Section 230 legal protections. Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) is also out to get Big Tech, as he just teamed up with progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to push a bill that would create a new, bureaucratic regulatory commission tasked with overseeing companies like Google, Meta, and Amazon. The commission would be allowed to block certain acquisitions by Big Tech firms, place restrictions on the companies’ ownership structures, and more. So much for limited government.

Many Republicans are beginning to believe that the practices of private enterprises should be regulated and influenced by the state. If this trend continues, our nation could soon be without a major political party that is committed to supporting economic freedom.

Trump's Tariffs. DeSantis' War on Woke. Does the GOP still support the free market?

Republicans are Pro-Business, but Not at the Expense of Citizens

By Janet Pattison – State Committeewoman, Republican Party of Florida

Today, the United States has a mixed economy in that there are several sectors of industry that are heavily regulated and others that are not. Republicans have the reputation of being pro-business and free market, but where does that come from?

Tariffs Can Be Used for Good

Since the founding of our country, Congress has used tariffs to protect US industry and raise revenue. The Tariff Act of 1789 was passed to protect American merchants and allow them to sell their goods and services cheaper than what was brought in through trade. Tariffs have been used throughout our country’s history to protect business and negotiate with other countries. Indeed, prior to WWII, our tariffs were much higher than today when you compare average tariff rates. But when an industry is strong and is looking for additional markets to enter, a tariff can prohibit growth. So, tariffs can be unpopular in a global economy.

However, the Trump tariffs had a specific purpose. They raised revenue, reduced the enormous trade deficit, and brought many US industries back to the country. American companies that left in the 1990s to find cheaper labor and resources started to return. In addition, President Trump also cut regulations on both small and large businesses. Two regulations had to be removed for every one regulation added. This move was extremely pro-business.

Republicans Remain Pro-Business

Republicans support the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. When corporations start to impinge on those rights, the government steps in to protect citizens. Industries are often given special protections to allow for growth, but when companies infringe on Constitutional rights, the protections are taken away. For example, when free speech was stepped on by the big tech companies, liability protections needed to be lifted. That said, I agree with concerns that more regulations and departments at the federal level are not beneficial and powers that belong to the state and to the people need to stay with the states. I also agree that creating a bureaucratic regulatory commission to oversee Big Tech is not necessary.

Economic freedom does not mean prioritizing profits above all else. It means low barriers to entry into industries. Our nation is still a place where you can start a business in your basement and grow it into a multi-million-dollar company. Republicans are still pro-business, but not at the expense of citizens. 

Tariffs Harm Businesses and the Free Market

By Benjamin Ayanian – Contributor, Young Voices

Ms. Pattison and I agree that the United States is a place where great minds can take an idea and turn it into a lucrative business. And that Americans should be careful not to destroy that dynamic, as the innovation that results from economic opportunity makes each of us more prosperous. I am also glad to see that we share an opposition to the proposed bureaucratic regulatory commission to oversee Big Tech, a body that would threaten innovation.

But despite those agreements, Ms. Pattison’s view on tariffs and Constitutional rights as well as her understanding of economic freedom are mistaken, leading her to reject the free-market principles that the Republican Party should be embracing. While she acknowledges that tariffs can hurt, she does not seem to be aware that tariffs unequivocally do hurt. Tariffs on specific goods raise the cost of inputs for businesses that depend on imports and increase prices for consumers. These higher prices harm consumers,  suppressing profits for businesses and leading to job losses. To the extent that tariffs protect certain industries, they do so at the expense of consumers and workers in other industries. 

Tariffs Are Harmful, and Trump’s Tariffs Were No Exception

In fact, Trump’s tariffs did not revive US manufacturing. According to an analysis from the Tax Foundation, Trump’s tariffs caused the loss of over 160,000 jobs. Ms. Pattison points out that the Trump tariffs were not nearly as high as US tariffs pre-WWII, and thank goodness for that. The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, enacted in 1930, radically raised import prices and is thought to be a major cause of the Great Depression. Tariffs are not pro-business and they are not pro-citizen. They are pro-special interest, as industries seeking protection from competition are the ones that lobby for tariffs. 

Ms. Pattison also argues that the government ought to protect constitutional rights in private settings, but this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights represents liberties that the government cannot infringe upon. But Starbucks has the right to prevent its employees from keeping and bearing arms at work, just as an NFL team owner is free to require players to stand during the national anthem before games. The government must respect all of our rights, but we do not have the same breadth of rights in private settings.

The GOP Needs to Return to Free-Market Principles

Along those same lines, social media platforms, which are private companies, have the right to regulate speech on their sites and employers can require training programs they believe to be beneficial. But social media users are also free to look for platforms that share their values on content moderation and employees are free to seek employment at companies with training programs that are acceptable to them. That is economic freedom.

Enacting tariffs and threatening the free speech of private companies, contrary to Ms. Pattison’s beliefs, are not consistent with the principles of economic freedom. The Republican Party is abandoning free-market principles, putting our liberties and economic prosperity at risk.

Republicans Must Keep to Their Convictions

By Janet Pattison – State Committeewoman, Republican Party of Florida

America is the land of opportunity, but it is turning into a country of bailouts and improper government-business relationships. The lines of government and business have blurred, causing confusion as to what is considered pro-business. Elected officials of both parties are urged by businesses to create pro-business policies, but when those policies step on constitutional rights, elected officials are no longer taking the side of the people.  

Mr. Ayanian wants to live in a world with totally free markets, but this world does not exist. Tariffs are a tool that have a place and time and are widely used around the world. US Manufacturing Output reached an all-time high in 2015 and continued to grow through 2020 with President Trump’s tariffs. I do agree that tariffs should not be in place forever, because as an industry matures, the tariffs must be removed. 

Adding Nuance to Free-Market Discussions

Mr. Ayanian’s examples of economic freedom are not the whole stories. In 2013, the CEO of Starbucks stated guns are not welcome in Starbucks, but in reality, the stores follow local laws and statutes. In 2018, the NFL created a policy for players to stand for the National Anthem or the team will be fined. There are still players that take a knee and take the fine. Social media platforms are not all private companies. For example, Facebook, Google, Amazon, and more are publicly traded companies. 

Mr. Ayanian is putting the blame in the wrong place. The Republican Party is still the best place to find people who support low taxes and reducing the size of government. Most of the Republican party wants to reduce government interference. It comes down to the candidates, our representatives, and what they will truly support. Electing people with backbone into these positions, that will keep to their convictions, is our only hope.

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Benjamin Ayanian
Contributor at Young Voices

Benjamin Ayanian is a contributor for Young Voices, a PR firm and talent agency for young, pro-liberty commentators. His writings have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Star Tribune, Newsweek, and more. 

Janet Pattison
State Committeewoman, Republican Party of Florida

Janet is the a State Committeewoman of the Republican Party of Florida and Chairman of Moms for Liberty, Bay County. She has a bachelor’s degree in Economics and master's in Business and Environmental Science. She served 20 years in the United Stares Air Force (retired) and enjoys living in the free state of Florida with her husband, child, grandchildren, and dogs.

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