I used to call myself a free-trader too. Nowadays, not so much.
Unlike many of my free trader friends, I recognize the damage that free — but unfair — trade has done to the United States. In his seminal work, Death by China, current White House trade policy adviser, Peter Navarro, outlined how China has used the utopian assumptions of free trade and globalization to enrich and empower itself at America’s expense. Navarro (and others) likened China’s policies over the last 30 years to amounting to a sustained economic war that targeted the American middle-class, in turn, causing the rapid decline of the United States. Navarro was a key figure in the president’s recent decision to enact a 25 percent tariff on all steel coming into the United States and a 10 percent tariff on all aluminum coming into the country.
If you are a worker in steel or aluminum-producing fields in the United States, hope has been returned to your lives. If you are corporate leader for an American company in either of these industries, you are praising Trump for his courage. There is little doubt, also, that the United States was shedding critical industries related to national security for far too long. And, as a former political hack, this is a refreshing turn, because Trump is taking away a critical Democratic talking point going into the 2018 elections. Between the historic (though incomplete, in my view) tax cut enacted last year and the move to put the profits of Wall Street on hold to favor middle-class, blue-collar workers in the steel and aluminum industries, the Democrats will have little maneuvering room in 2018.
But, what happens if there is more damage done to the United States in the long run?
Weigert raises some concerns I find interesting, certainly, but I ain’t economist enough to pass judgement or even comment much on them. That said, I do feel qualified to state that “free trade” is a chimera. It has never really existed in this world; over the years, I have come to strongly doubt it even can.
I also remember that after years of being victimized by an intentional campaign to drive them under undertaken by the Big Four Japanese motorcycle companies, Harley Davidson snapped back strongly thanks to Reagan’s protective temporary tariffs on Japanese bikes—a move derided at the time as an abomination by free-traders.
Admittedly, Harley’s problems were also due to years of piss-poor management under AMF. By the late 70s, they had a defect rate of nearly 50 percent, and were building bikes known more for their unreliability and poor performance in just about every category there was. The things were leaky, creaky, slow old rattlewagons that didn’t really handle so much as they just sort of wallowed. Even the humblest Honda or Yamaha could run rings around the clunkers without strain, in every way there was.
And now the young hipster types are falling all over themselves for those old Shovelheads, snapping them up, customizing them brilliantly, and riding the hell out of them. It’s something to see, something that amuses me no end. But I must admit, a great many of the ones I see around town these days are damned impressive. I also must admit having to help the youngsters with getting them started at the bar more than just a couple of times; having mechanicked on the finicky bastards for years (not to mention owning one myself for nearly ten years), I still remember a few useful tricks for dealing with them when they turn sour and stubborn.
My own old Shovel traveled pretty damned widely in its day, and I have to say it didn’t give me a lot of trouble after the motor was rebuilt early on. No trouble I didn’t cause myself, that is, usually by flogging it well beyond its capacity for abuse and breaking something.
My rambling aside, I greatly prefer keeping a company like Harley in business via protectionism over sacrificing it in obeisance to an ideal that has never really existed in the real world anyway, except as a means by which foreign competitors can (and do) take advantage of us. Weigert’s point about preserving “critical industries related to national security” is a vital one as well. Allowing our country to become dependent on foreign steel in particular never did make any sense to me; in certain circumstances which are far from unimaginable, such a dependence puts us at grave—even existential—risk.
In light of these stark realities, I can’t muster too much concern over Weigert’s contention that Trump’s proposed tariffs are “too steep.” Spengler’s fretting, too, seems overblown to me (tariffs will reduce us to “the economic profile of a Brazil”? Seriously?). The spluttering outrage of free-trade unicorn chasers in the usual Cucktard circles (cough cough) over Trump’s supposed “blunder,” tiresomely predictable as it is, isn’t even worth bothering about.
A country as resource-rich as this one—blessed with a national ingenuity, drive, and willingness to turn-to that is nothing short of legendary—need not resign itself to reliance on others for much of anything, and should not. Our lapse into dependence on foreign oil was costly enough, in more ways than one, and was every bit as unnecessary—a self-inflicted wound that nearly bled us white, with the added disastrous consequence of empowering bloodthirsty Middle East primitives and financing their maniacal ambitions tacked on. I’m no economist, and the comparison may not be entirely valid. But it seems obvious to me that this time around, we’d do better to learn the lesson instead of repeating the mistake.