Misleading claims should be canned

Maybe we’ve developed immunity to misleading claims. Just like any other widely prevalent virus, we build up antibodies to fight off new infections. The claims cause nothing more than a mild headache, if that.

Like contagious viruses, misleading and dishonest political and advertising claims are all around us, spread by word of mouth and even infectious online touches.

There are state candidate claims about a fantasy plan to solve all of Alaska’s budget problems, without taxes and while paying out fat Permanent Fund dividends. Or presidential claims of millions of new jobs. The worst of election campaign claims come from the loudest of the national candidates who proclaim that only they can solve illegal immigration, inflation, crime and long TSA lines — and improve schools — all at no cost.

But false declarations are not the exclusive territory of politicians. Big businesses spread the disease too.

More recently, an industry trade group opened a can of political worms with its misleading claims that tariffs on foreign steel will cause Americans to go hungry. Well, their lobbying cries didn’t go quite that far, but they did claim that tariffs could drive up the price of canned foods by as much as 30%, implying that a $1.50 can of beans could go up to almost $2 — all because of a few pennies in higher tariffs.

The Consumer Brands Association, a trade group representing companies such as Campbell Soup and Del Monte, has come out strongly against preliminary new U.S. tariffs on steel from China, Germany and China. The rolled steel — called tinplate — is used to make cans.

Tariffs are about protecting domestic industries, such as steel makers, from unfair overseas competition, such as when a foreign supplier sells its product below cost in the U.S. Tariffs are also about keeping out lower-cost competition, allowing domestic manufacturers to charge more for their products.

The U.S. steel industry supports the proposed tariffs; canned food companies feel the opposite. But rather than issue honest statements that they like cheap foreign-made supplies, they try to scare Americans into believing the tariffs will take food out of their mouths.

All’s fair in politics and business, I suppose, but the math should at least add up.

The preliminary U.S. tariff on Chinese steel is 122%; it’s 7% on German supplies and about 5% on Canadian tinplate. Now keep in mind that Germany and Canada supply almost one-third of the tinplate imports to the U.S. — China has just 14% of the market in this country. Tinplate from the rest of the world, which fulfills more than half of the U.S. import needs, would not be affected by the tariffs.

And yet the Consumer Brands Association tells Americans that a small tariff on a small portion of tinplate coming into the country, plus a large tariff on the small portion coming from China, could drive up the price of beans by as much as 30%.

In full disclosure, the industry group’s 30% claim was based on assumptions that national news reporting left out of the story, making the misleading number even more misleading. But the point remains: Don’t trust self-serving claims. They are intended to alarm and mislead. They’re thin, just like a tin can.


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