Trump’s Chinese Solar Panel Tariffs – Good and Bad

Firstly, I’m not against tariffs.  As a student of 19th century history it baffles me that free trade has become such a powerfully accepted mantra, even at the cost of so many American jobs and the disintegration of the middle class.  But tariffs on solar panels, the only such protectionism so far from the America First president, seem like a specific attack on alternative energy.  Of the many stupid, stupid, STUPID actions of this administration and his party in year one, the attacks on alternative energy and support for dying or dead industries like coal and nuclear are absolutely inexplicably stupid and pointless.  This feels more like a part of that, than an effort to protect an American industry.

But as this piece in The Week explains, it likely won’t have that much negative effect on the continuing swap of dirty energy sources for clean ones, and may have a positive effect on American solar panel producers – which would be great.

Estimates suggest the cost will rise at most by 10 percent, and probably far less for smaller-scale residential installations. That increase will push the cost of solar installations back up to where they were a mere year and a half ago. “I don’t believe this decision will reverse the solar expansion in the U.S.,” Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, said at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “The global solar industry will adjust. The penetration of solar in the U.S. will continue.”

Furthermore, solar panels from abroad are cheap because the countries that produce them often have low living standards. Their workers aren’t paid much. That means those manufacturers don’t really have to come up with new innovations and technological breakthroughs. They can compete mostly on price. American manufacturers, by contrast, have to pay their workers a lot more — and thus have a lot more incentive to innovate. American-made solar panels won’t be the cheapest. But they might be the best.

That all makes sense, business-wise, and so long as it doesn’t cause any business or municipality to cancel a solar panel installation, we’re all good.

Now if Trump would put a tariff on foreign steel, that would be a real debate and would have much more of a protectionist effect on our economy.  Things are booming, building is happening everywhere.  Something to help the American steel industry may actually  make a difference.  Let’s see if Trump does that.  I suspect that he won’t just like he’ll never actually take any action against Saudi Arabia, the actual largest funder of worldwide terrorism rather than Iran.  It’s all just rhetoric and gestures.

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