Raiding the piggy bank for back to school

Andrew Langer President, Institute for Liberty
Font Size:

Those glum faces you’ve been seeing at the start of this school year?  It’s not the disappointment of kids seeing their summer vacations coming to an end.  It’s the resignation you see when working parents realize the ever-increasing price tag for getting their kids back to school.  That resignation has grown more palpable this year.  With more and more school systems finding themselves in tough financial times due to the economic downturn, parents are finding themselves having to pay directly for materials traditionally provided by schools — materials whose costs continue to skyrocket.

Higher prices are going to cost teachers and parents alike. One study released earlier this year revealed that teachers already spend on average $356 of their own money on supplies and resources. Meanwhile, the National Retail Federation reports that the average family will spend $96 on back to school supplies — 10 percent higher than just a year ago.

Though low-price chains can alleviate some of those burdens, there is an additional factor that conspires to keep those discount prices artificially high.  An unholy cabal of anti-free trade activists, environmental groups, and American labor unions are hard at work to keep less-expensive goods (and the raw materials to make others) off American shelves!

The green groups want us to use less paper, period (even if timber is logged ethically and legally). Union bosses want to make sure their members keep high-paying jobs by keeping out low-cost, high-quality options. And domestic companies sometimes just get tired of competing in the global marketplace and turn to protectionist policies for unfair support.  Each member of this cabal (which includes groups like Greenpeace and the United Steel workers) hopes to make paper products more expensive for U.S. consumers.

All that theory sounds like stuff for the classrooms though, right? Unfortunately, there’s already a real-world example being drawn on the chalkboard.

Companies many of us have never heard of — Sappi, NewPage, Appleton — have teamed up with the Steelworkers to get temporary tariffs of as much as 135 percent slapped on foreign paper products ahead of a decision this month on whether to impose permanent protectionist costs.

Of course, Big Labor argues that protectionist policies are a must — that creating barriers (and the resulting higher prices) will project jobs in America.  But apparently they’ve missed both history and economics in their Ivy League educations.  Economics has taught us that higher labor costs ultimately result in fewer jobs — and nearly three decades of protectionism (in the form of both trade barriers and suicidal regulatory policies) has shown us the historical reality, the nation’s highest levels of unemployment in decades and the evisceration of the US manufacturing sector!
And yet the environmental activists, labor bosses, and paper companies still are pushing higher costs on teachers and parents.   Rather than focus on the shortcomings of our domestic policies — outmoded employment laws, regulatory costs that consume 1/7th of our economy, energy costs that are expected to skyrocket should the greens have their way — these conspirators instead want to make things even more complicated!  In other words, because the onerous rules that are on the books have made things awful, their belief is that more rules will make things better.

Any child stepping on a school bus this week can tell them this isn’t the case!

In the end though, for all the macroeconomic theory, the reality is that these protectionist policies are translating into higher prices — for me, for you, and for the millions of working men and women struggling to provide their children with the tools they need to get a good education.  We cannot allow a cabal of elitists to deny them that opportunity.

Andrew Langer is president of the Institute for Liberty, which recently launched the Consumers Alliance for Global Prosperity.