Thou Shalt Not Steal

A few years ago we toured a factory in Cedar Falls that made some really nice pickup campers. They were in the process of building some campers for shipment to Argentina. Just think, they could do that economically enough to offset shipping all the way down there in spite of the general idea that our manufacturers need forced “fair trade” to compete in the world.

One camper they were building was for a Volkswagen Amarok (“wolf” in Inuit). The Amarok has been sold everywhere but in the U.S. for quite awhile. It is about the size of a Toyota Tacoma.

In 2014, a nine-man crew took three Amaroks 9,942 miles from Moscow to Kamchatka to promote the Sochi Winter Olympics. They had long travel shocks, big tires, and some cold weather modifications but otherwise were stock. They used the same engine as we have in our 2015 Sportwagen TDI. They set the Guinness World Record for off-road travel across one country.

There are other examples of small pickups essentially banned from U.S. consumers. The rest of the world has Ford Rangers and the Toyota Hilux. They are built overseas. You’ve probably seen a Hilux on the news in far-off lands. The Hilux is recognizable as the choice of terrorists and third world governments because dependability is important in war.

A couple vans that have become popular for delivery and tradesmen are the Ford Transit Connect and Dodge Sprinter. They are both mostly built overseas. The Dodge is shipped here and then completed with domestic parts. The Ford is built in Turkey with windows and passenger seats. When they arrive in Baltimore the windows are replaced with metal panels and seats are scrapped. Subaru put seats in a pickup bed. All this so they could be called “passenger vehicles.”

Americans have become pretty good at bragging about our freedoms while accepting the lack of it. That these vehicles are either unavailable or overpriced is a perfect example of a small group profiting at the expense of the majority.

In 1963 Europeans complained that U.S. frozen chicken imports were being sold “below the cost of production,” so they imposed tariffs that resulted in a 25% decrease in those imports. Lyndon Johnson saw this as an opportunity to gain favor with union constituents and U.S. manufacturers. A 25% tariff was imposed on European light trucks along with some other products whose tariffs have since been withdrawn. Potato starch and domestic brandy unions aren’t so important so the Chicken Tax remains only on light trucks.

There was hope the Chicken Tax would be phased out with the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. But that idea faded away when the partnership was viewed as too advantageous to our trading partners.

The bottom line is that consumers are always hurt when government steps in to make things “fair.” It might seem like a good deal today, as evidenced by the outrage of agricultural exporters at the recent steel and aluminum tariffs. But as the free market guides business decisions less and less, over production and other forms of malinvestment will eventually make things more expensive for everyone.

Basically, U.S. made pickups have been the most profitable (and overpriced) sector of the auto industry for a reason. The Eighth Commandment addresses that reason but we just tolerate it as the status quo. It is time we demand principled politicians whether it benefits us directly or not because, long term, we would all be better off.

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