U.S. Chamber Chief Dredges Up Smoot-Hawley Boogeyman

September 20, 2018

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-chamber/u-s-chamber-chief-says-trump-can-still-avoid-a-damaging-trade-war-idUSKCN1LZ1ZO

I’m surprised that free trade globalists haven’t done it sooner but, as reported in the above-linked Reuters article, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has dredged up the old Smoot-Hawley boogeyman to try to scare people into opposing the Trump trade agenda.

“No, I don’t think the tariffs will be permanent,” Donohue said, adding that this would “screw the economy” in ways similar to the 1930s Smoot-Hawley Tariff, referring to a protectionist law that raised thousands of U.S. tariffs and which many economists believe exacerbated the Depression.

My apologies to those who have followed this blog for a long time, as I’ve posted on this topic many times before.  But the message bears repeating anytime anyone resorts to this tired argument against tariffs.

The above quote would leave those unfamiliar with trade history with the impression that the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act represented a turn away from free trade toward protectionism, triggering a global depression.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Here are the facts:

  • From its founding, the U.S. relied upon tariffs to establish itself as the world’s preeminent industrial power.  In fact, until 1913 when the constitution was amended to establish an income tax, all federal revenue was derived from tariffs.
  • The Fordney-McCumber Tariff Act of 1922 was widely credited for the economic boom times of the “roaring ’20s.”
  • The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act represented only a very minor tweaking of tariff rates – on average only a 2.7% change from the Fordney-McCumber Act.
  • Smoot-Hawley wasn’t enacted until June, 1930, a full seven months after the stock market crash of October, 1929 which caused the failure of thousands of banks.
  • At the worst depth of the Great Recession that followed the market crash, America’s exports had contracted by only $6.5 billion, while the economy, as measured by gross domestic product, contracted $33.1 billion.  It was actually the world-wide depression that caused exports to shrink, and not vice versa.  We saw exactly the same phenomenon during the “Great Recession” which began in 2008.  That came at the peak of free trade policy and yet trade contracted dramatically as the world sank into recession.

“U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue said on Wednesday that the Trump administration could still avoid a full-blown global trade war …”

It doesn’t seem to occur to Mr. Donohue that the Trump administration may not want to avoid a “full-blown global trade war.”  In fact, the U.S. has been in such a war since the signing of the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1947, a war we’ve been losing badly because we weren’t willing to put up a fight.  The free-traders that gained traction in the wake of World War II had pulled the wool over our eyes.  Thankfully, we finally have a president who sees what a failure that approach has been.

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More Trade War Hysteria

April 7, 2018

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/04/one-of-the-biggest-us-trade-wars-of-the-past-had-a-tragic-consequence–heres-what-happened.html?recirc=taboolainternal

I was hoping to spend some time tallying the U.S.’s global trade results for 2017, but then this popped up and I just can’t let it pass.  Actually, I was wondering when the free trade globalists would dredge up the subject of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, blaming it for the Great Depression, as they usually do.  But the writer of the above linked article, in an apparent attempt to ratchet up fears of a trade war, goes a step further and blames Smoot-Hawley for World War II!

She begins by creating the impression that Smoot-Hawley was an opening salvo in a trade war in the 1930s.  She either doesn’t have a clue, or is intentionally trying to mislead her readers.  Let’s get some facts straight.  First of all, the use of tariffs was standard trade policy for the United States since its founding.  In fact, until 1913, there was no need for an income tax in the U.S. because all federal revenue was derived from tariffs.  The Smoot Hawley Act was nothing more than a minor tweak of tariff rates that had been in effect since the Fordney-McCumber Act of 1922.  It increased tariffs on average by 2.7%.  It changed the tariff basis from an ad valorem (percentage) basis to a fixed dollar basis which, under normal circumstances, would actually have slowly reduced tariffs as inflation eroded the value of the tariff.  But, of course, the Great Depression resulted in a protracted term of deflation instead of inflation.

Blaming Smoot-Hawley for the Great Depression is bad enough.  Not only was the change in tariff rates minuscule, but it wasn’t enacted until June of 1930, a year-and-a-half after the stock market crash of 1929 which actually precipitated the Great Depression.  And at the height of the Great Depression in 1933 when GDP (gross domestic product) had fallen by 33%, or $33.1 billion from its 1929 level, the total value of imports and exports had declined by only $6.5 billion.  It was actually the Great Depression that caused the drop in trade, and not the other way around, just as the “Great Recession” that began in 2008 resulted in a sharp decline in trade.

To blame Smoot-Hawley or a “trade war” that didn’t even exist for World War II is truly outrageous.  It was actually the aftermath of World War I and the severe war reparations that were imposed on Germany, resulting in soaring inflation and unemployment, that fostered Hitler’s rise to power.  And that just happened to coincide with the growing aggressiveness of imperialist Japan.  Trade had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Sure, the world made a turn toward free trade following the war with the signing of the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1947, but it wasn’t because anyone blamed a “trade war” for causing World War II.  It was because economists, eager to try out the concept of free trade, successfully (but disingenuously) blamed tariffs for the Great Depression and made an argument that the interdependence that would come with free trade could preclude any future world wars.

Actually, if one were to be honest, free trade and the enormous global trade imbalances it has fostered is directly responsible for our current trade tensions.  We need to restore balance to global trade through the use of tariffs or quotas before things get any worse.


A Trade War? Let’s Get It On!

March 25, 2018

I’ve been waiting a long time for this – my whole life, really – and now it seems to be happening.  Trump seems to be finding his footing in making good on his promise to end the “free trade” rape of America’s economy and workers.  In the wake of imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum, this week he also edged closer to slapping tariffs on $60 billion worth of Chinese imports.  And the whole community of globalist trade parasites that has fed on the American economy for decades is freaking out.

It’s been amusing to watch the reaction and threats of retaliation.  First, the EU (European Union) threatened to slap tariffs on American exports of bourbon, Levi’s blue jeans and Harley Davidson motorcycles.  Trump responded, “go ahead, and we’ll put a 25% tariff on imports of European cars.”

Let’s stop right there and take a look at this situation.  In 2017, the EU imported $839 million worth of bourbon whiskey.  Sounds like a lot of booze, right?  And while I can’t separate Harley Davidson motorcycles from other brands and bicycles, I can tell you that the EU imported $802 million worth of motorcycles and bicycles in general from the U.S.  And how many pairs of jeans did they import?  None.  Zilch.  Why?  Because virtually none are made in the U.S.  It’s kind of pathetic, actually, that EU officials can’t even name three American imports without getting one of them wrong.  I’m sure that the folks at Levi’s had  puzzled looks on their faces and, at the same time, officials in Bangladesh or wherever Levi’s are made these days cringed.  By contrast, the U.S. imported $43 billion worth of cars from Europe – half coming from Germany alone.  Upon hearing Trump’s threat to slap tariffs on their car imports, the EU backed off fast from further retaliation threats.

You might ask, couldn’t the EU then respond with tariffs on imports of American cars?  Yeah, but they only imported $8 billion worth of cars in 2017.  The whole idea of “retaliation” is to strike back in a way that hurts at least as much as what’s been done to you.  Therein lies the problem for anyone with a huge trade surplus with the U.S.  It’s impossible to “retaliate” in any meaningful way.  In the above scenario, where the U.S. puts $1.6 billion worth of bourbon and motorcycle exports at risk, the EU stands to lose twenty-five times that much in auto exports.  The U.S. could actually just hand Jim Beam and Harley Davidson $1.6 billion to make up their loss, and still be way, way ahead.

Then there’s China or, as I’ll refer to them from now on, “Red China.”  That’s how they used to be known under Chairman Mao Tse Tung, until the U.S. began making overtures to them in the hope of turning them into a more free and open society.  But, in my opinion, with Xi Jingping’s power grab, making himself China’s communist dictator for life – just like Chairman Mao – China no longer deserves that respect.  From now on, they’re once again “Red China” and “Chairman Xi.”

So, anyway, back to Red China.  Trump is threatening to slap tariffs on $60 billion worth of their exports, and it would probably escalate from there.  Already, Red China has threatened to retaliate with tariffs on soybeans, and then with tariffs on an additional 127 American products.  And the Chicken Littles of globalism are freaking out with dire warnings of the consequences of a trade war.

So, just like we did with the EU above, let’s take a detailed look at this situation.  In 2017, Red China imported $12.4 billion worth of soybeans from the U.S.  The other 127 products total up to $3 billion for a grand total of $15.4 billion worth of retaliation to America’s tariffs on $60 billion worth of Chinese exports.  So, once again we see that Red China is incapable of mounting any kind of real retaliation at all.  With over $500 billion in exports to the U.S., while only importing $130 billion, there’s simply no way for Red China to retaliate in any meaningful way.  If all trade with Red China were halted completely, the U.S. wins by $370 billion.  Hell, we could just hand soybean farmers $12.4 billion and still be ahead by $357.6 billion!

Oh, by the way, the threat of tariffs on American soybeans would hurt the Chinese more than Americans.  Does Chairman Xi think that his people will simply eat less?  Of course not.  He’ll have to get his soybeans somewhere else, like Brazil, and now those countries who imported soybeans from Brazil will turn to the U.S., probably bidding up the cost of soybeans.  No skin off of our noses, Chairman Xi.

Not so fast, the free trade advocates and globalists warn, American consumers will be hurt by higher prices in a trade war.  Oh, really?  Not if you factor quality into the equation and the fact that cheap junk from Red China has to be constantly replaced.  Last year, I replaced the faucet in our bathroom, which had been there for thirty years.  We wanted to replace it with the exact same model, since it’s used in other bathrooms in the house and still goes well with the other decor.  Already  it’s falling apart.  The handles keep coming loose because the threads were cut too sloppy (as is often the case with Chinese products) and the hot water handle squeaks like a rusty gate.  So the cheap Chinese version barely lasts a year while the old, American-made version held up for thirty.

This week, while doing a wood-working project, my lightly-used, Chinese router quit.  I wanted to replace it with a good, American-made router but I found out, sadly, that none are made in the U.S.  Not only that, no power tools of any kind are made in the U.S. anymore.

So, no sooner did I buy a cheap Chinese router, than my printer quit on me, just past its warranty.  New printers have become an almost annual purchase for me.  To summarize, I’m really getting sick of dealing with poor quality Chinese junk, just like virtually every American is.  A boon to U.S. consumers?  Baloney!

Of course, the real reason that the claim of lower costs for American consumers is a lie is because cost is relative to income, and our huge trade deficit and corresponding job losses with Red China have held down and even cut American incomes more than it has reduced costs.

Trump has used “national security” as his rationale for levying tariffs on steel and aluminum.  Why stop there?  Look at clothing.  Virtually none is made in the U.S.  Isn’t it a matter of national security that we might all be running around naked during a war?  Well, we could make our clothes, right?  Nope.  No fabric is made in the U.S. either.

Or how about the example of power tools I talked about above?  It takes tools to make things.  We don’t even have the tools it takes to make tools!  Where would we get them during a war?  Let’s face it.  If a war broke out right now, we’d soon find ourselves fighting it naked with nothing more than clubs.  Maintaining a healthy manufacturing sector – one capable of manufacturing everything that we need – is a matter of national security.

A trade war?  It’s impossible for the U.S. to do anything but win, and win big.  Come on, President Trump, let’s get it started!