Duncan Hunter, a U. S. Representative from the 52nd Congressional District in California, is another of the Republican contenders for the presidency in 2008. Analyzing Hunter’s stances on important political issues shows him to be generally sound on his positions in support of the right to life and limited government. However, Hunter’s recommendations to restrict true international free trade and prohibit online gambling are causes for significant concern.
Hunter’s ideas in support of the right to life and in opposition to abortion are fundamentally sound. In 2005, he was responsible for the introduction of H. R. 552, The Right to Life Act, which would have defined human “personhood” as originating at conception and thus would have afforded all constitutional protections to unborn fetuses. Unfortunately, this bill was not heard by the House of Representatives, which adjourned several days before the hearing on the bill was scheduled. Hunter also co-sponsored and helped pass the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act of 2005, which forbade the transportation of minors across state lines to obtain an abortion if this violated the laws of the state where the minor resides.
Other strong points in Hunter’s agenda include his strong disapproval of the Supreme Court’s Kelo v. New Londondecision, which legitimized eminent domain seizures of private property for redistribution to other private parties. Hunter furthermore advocates a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman. He is a proponent of gun ownership rights, who promises to “vigorously defend against all attempts to chip away at the Second Amendment.”
Representative Hunter wishes to balance the federal budget, largely through cutting the 28% of federal programs which he states “are either ineffective or have results that are not demonstrated.” The representative has historically supported increases in defense and homeland security spending, but has advocated “limiting growth in non-defense areas.”
Hunter opposes tax increases and seeks to provide greater government revenue through increased economic growth rather than through raising the tax rates. He also wishes to eliminate obsolete taxes such as the Federal Telephone Excise Tax, whose original purpose in 1898 was to pay for the Spanish-American War. Today, this tax is levied on all telephone and Internet communications, despite having long outlived the cause which it initially supported. Hunter states that he wants to “reform the tax code, making it simpler, fairer, and more growth-oriented” as well as to reduce the impact of the Alternative Minimum Tax, which most gravely burdens lower-income working Americans.
If Hunter manages to implement any of these government reduction and tax simplification ideas, he will have made the country freer as a result. Yet Hunter’s stances on trade policy are a cause for significant concern.
Hunter has a good record opposing pseudo-free-trade agreements such as NAFTA and the World Trade Organization, but this is mixed with a thorough opposition toward genuine, non-state-regulated free trade. Hunter argues that the United States trade deficit is detrimental, ignoring the economic fact that a trade deficit is also equal to a net inflow of capital into the country that experiences it. That is, foreigners are purchasing American dollars in exchange for assets that they either invest into the U. S. economy or into U. S. treasury bonds, thus preventing a complete collapse of the debt-ridden American federal government.
Furthermore, Hunter has voiced strong opposition to China’s subsidization of its manufacturers and its protective tariffs against American imports. Yet while these policies in restraint of trade can justifiably be opposed, economics shows that they do not hurt American consumers or manufacturers. Indeed, they hurt the Chinese consumers who are taxed to subsidize Chinese manufacturers while having to pay higher prices for American imports. By shielding Chinese manufacturers against competition, such policies actually render them less effective in meeting challenges posed by other non-subsidized firms.
If anything, the Chinese government subsidizes American consumers at the expense of its own citizens, by encouraging Chinese exports to the United States. But Hunter wishes to “put the same charges on foreign goods that [foreigners] put on ours.” This policy of implementing retaliatory tariffs has historically been nothing but the cause of trade wars, which intensify over time to suffocate commerce among nations. This was the effect of the notorious 1930 Smoot-Hawley tariff, which significantly worsened the Great Depression and virtually eliminated international trade; Hunter cannot reasonably expect his suggested policies to produce a different result. Furthermore, placing tariffs on imports will hurt the American consumer in the same way that the Chinese government currently hurts Chinese consumers.
Indeed, what Hunter supports is not true multilateral free trade, but rather the misnamed “fair trade.” He laments in his official platform statement that “unfortunately, foreign workers as well, in the interests of “fair trade.”
Yet the only results such a policy will obtain are diminished prospects for American companies with overseas investments and massive unemployment in Third World countries, many of whose workers do not have the skills or training to earn an American minimum wage. Economics holds that the marginal productivity of labor, not the regulatory climate, is responsible for the wage rate. Hence, an American worker earns more because he is more productive, not because he is “protected” by government regulations. The regulations only impose a price floor on labor and result in unemployment for all those whose labor is not worth the minimum wage rate.
Furthermore, Hunter has supported prohibitions on Internet gambling, which are alarming not only because they endeavor to restrict individuals’ rights to non-coercively use their money as they choose-even if they employ it in ways that have little productive potential-but also because such restrictions will set a powerful precedent for government involvement on the Internet, a medium which has flourished in part due to the virtual absence of state intervention in it. If Hunter’s recommendations were to be implemented, we would see a massive crackdown on a broad array of websites, as well the emergence of a government infrastructure capable of suppressing other “undesirable” activities online. Perhaps Hunter himself would not limit the right of political free speech on the web, but future politicians with more sinister motives would be empowered to do so by both the precedent and the infrastructure resulting from an Internet gambling ban.
While Hunter has a variety of sound positions-including his support for the right to life, the integrity of the family, the reduction of inefficient government programs, and a simplification of the tax code-his thorough advocacy of government protectionism and state intervention online makes one seriously wonder whether he would do more harm than good if elected. While this remains an open question, it is in general far easier for a politician to institute more government interference than to reduce already existing kinds. If elected, Hunter would probably succeed in restricting international trade with the United States, but he would face an uphill battle trying to enact his proposals for limiting government. The key question in deciding whether Duncan Hunter is a worthwhile candidate for President must then be: does he have the tenacity and will to actually carry through on his promises in the areas where he seeks to restrict the government’s scope? The answer remains to be determined.