Liberty Expose: The Protectionist-In-Chief
When Donald Trump won the Republican nomination, there were two schools of thought on how he would govern should he win. The first, a view promoted by the Trump sceptics on the right, argued that the Republican nominee would go full Trump, and disregard the advice of his advisors. The second view, argued by those more sympathetic to Trump’s candidacy, believed that the future president would realize that he is not omnipotent, and rely almost solely on his advisors – thereby making America a de facto technocracy. What both groups shared in common is the belief that Donald Trump would not win. But on election night, stranger things happened.
For the first year of the Trump administration, it appeared that those more sympathetic to Trump’s plight proved to be correct. He successfully nominated a conservative judge to the Supreme Court, cut regulations, and signed off on a tax bill that contributed positively to the economy. Disaster averted – almost. There were the that one would expect from Mr. Trump; namely the fabrication of reality, the ego-driven Twitter rampages, and the other occurrences associated with being an American celebrity. And there were political failures, such as the botched Obamacare repeal, and the numerous resigned officials, but overall, he did not do as apocalyptically as many on the right predicted. With the exodus of Steve Bannon and his legion, the future of the administration did not look bleak.
And then last week happened. Out of the blue, President Trump announced that he was going to implement a stiff tariff on steel and aluminum products. 25% tariff for the former, 10% on the latter. He did this out of his belief that he can bring the steel industry back to America. It should not surprise anyone he is doing this – protectionism is the one issue he has never wavered on.
The idea of resurrecting the steel industry is illogical beyond comprehension. How one can romanticize of making the Rust Belt look like the set of The Deer Hunter is difficult to understand, but the president is hellbent on casting himself as the protector of the American blue caller worker.
The reactionary view that industries can be reanimated is a popular one for economic illiterates ranging from President Trump to Michael Moore. The history of economic development is one of change – as a nation advances, it’s industries advance with it. Nations that rely on the same mode of economy for centuries are nations whom do not make progress. There was a time when shipbuilding was the livelihood of New England, and cotton planting was the definition of antebellum economics. But technology changes and civilizations progress. The same happened to the industries that are romanticized today.
America moved beyond relying on factories as a vertebrae of the economy. The economy advanced, and workers advanced with it. Now the digital revolution reigns supreme, and workers are adjusting to the information economy – and we should be thankful for it. The advancements brought by this new economy have brought a living standard unfathomable a century ago.
Higher expertise leads to higher wages, and the costs associated with Rust Belt industries have been exported to less developed economies. And in time, the current economy will be a memory, and there will be those romanticizing the age of Silicon Valley, and there will be politicians like Donald Trump who want to damage the economy in order to bring the Silicon Valley industries back.
The benefits of free trade have overwhelmingly more benefits than drawbacks – and those who benefit the most are not the “one percent,” but rather the American worker. The economically illiterate idea the president has, that trade is a zero-sum game must be dismissed. It is an idea unnervingly close to what socialists believe. Many everyday products have become cheaper because of free trade. Industries have to promote their products for a cheaper price because they must contend with products being manufactured all over the world.
The idea of winning a trade war is about like winning a nuclear war – no one actually wins. Already, Canada and the European Union, among others, have stated that they will respond in kind should the president raise tariffs. That directly translates to loss of American jobs. It also translates to more expensive products, which in turn slows the economy. Tariffs go beyond adding a few cents to cans of soup, as Trump administration officials are claiming.
It could lead to significant increases in auto prices, and construction development. The auto workers being hurt by attacks on foreign trade – companies that invest heavily in America – would only hurt the American workers employed for those companies and will only make buying a car even more difficult. The slowing of construction will mean loss of construction jobs – the same types of jobs the president claims to be saving.
The president would be wise to look at recent history. In 2002, the Bush administration passed a series of steel tariffs that were designed to be withdrawn after three years. They were withdrawn the next year. It was estimated that the government spent around $400,000 to save each job the tariff was designed to save. Trading pacts threatened to tariff American products, and Americans began to lose their jobs. The steel tariff was a complete failure – one that its implementors are warning the Trump administration about.
The cost of saving the tariffed jobs brings us to another point – tariffs are essentially welfare. The American people as a whole must pay higher prices in order to serve the interests of a select few. It is a tax on Americans, curtsey of a Republican administration.
Earlier this century, free traders celebrated what they thought was a victory for their cause. Both major political parties subscribed to free trade, and the protectionists of American history have faded away. The free traders were wrong. As Ronald Regan is often cited, “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Likewise, the brilliance of free trade is not ingrained into the American DNA – no idea is. Each generation must argue and defend it.
Liberty and its economic arm, free trade, will always be a concept that must be advocated, for it does not offer the securities that the illusion of protectionism provide. Failure to do so results in the party of freedom – the party of Ronald Regan – nominating a mercantilist as its candidate for president. We are witnessing the consequences, now we must learn from history.