The above link will take you to an interview conducted by CNN’s Poppy Harlow with Mark Fields, Ford CEO. If you have the patience to watch it all the way through, it will be immediately followed by further discussion of Trump’s plans to raise tariffs and bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.
Trump has long predicted that Ford would be announcing its move to Mexico. Fields responds that they are only moving its small car production – the Focus and the C-Max (both made at Ford’s Dearborn, MI plant) -to Mexico. Other models will continue to be made in the U.S.
Ford actually sells six car models: Fiesta, Focus, C-max, Fusion, Mustang and Taurus. The Fiesta and the Fusion are already built in Mexico. Ford’s announcement about the Focus and C-max leaves only two of its six car models that are still made in the U.S. – Mustang and Taurus. The former is built at its Flat Rock, MI plant and the Taurus is built in Chicago. Most of its SUVs and trucks are built in the U.S. There’s a good reason for this. The U.S. continues to maintain a 25% tariff on all imported light trucks.
The Transit Connect is an interesting exception. Until 2013, Ford imported the Transit Connect, a vehicle it markets as a commercial van/truck, from Turkey, trimmed out as a passenger van. It then strips out the passenger interior, removes the windows, and replaces them with metal panels, converting it into a commercial vehicle. It did all of this to escape paying the 25% import tariff. In 2013, the U.S. ordered Ford to stop this practice. Ford still does it, but now it pays the tariff. It “eats” the cost of the tariff. It doesn’t pass it on to the consumer.
If elected, Trump has vowed to essentially tear up most trade deals – particularly NAFTA, and will raise tariffs to force companies to re-establish their manufacturing operations in the U.S. In the case of Mexico, he has suggested a 35% tariff. During the linked interview, Ms. Harlow asked Mark Shields directly whether he would still move manufacturing to Mexico if that were to happen. Shields side-stepped the question. But the answer is obvious. Of course Ford would not move more production to Mexico if that were to happen. Quite the opposite. Production of the Fiesta and Fusion would also return.
Late in the interview, Shields cited the huge savings in labor costs for the move to Mexico, saying that it needed to be done to remain competitive in that segment of the market. Ms. Harlow failed to follow up with the obvious question: “So you’ll be reducing the price of the Focus once production has moved to Mexico?” I would have loved to see him squirm and see the smirk run away from his face when he replied that the price wouldn’t change a bit.
Has any company ever cut the price of any product once its production was moved overseas? Of course not. They pocket the extra profit. Which brings us to one of the arguments employed by economists (and cited in the 2nd CNN segment which starts immediately after the Mark Shields interview) that prices will rise and consumers will be forced to pay the tariffs, hurting the economy and cutting deeply into consumer spending.
That’s absolute nonsense. Consumers don’t pay the tariffs. The importing companies pay the tariffs. Whether or not they elect to pass that extra cost along to the consumer is entirely up to them. As we saw above with the Transit Connect, Ford doesn’t pass it along. Sure, that would cut deeply into profits. By far, the smarter alternative is to move manufacturing back to the U.S.
During the course of the interview, Ms. Harlow repeats a myth about tariffs and their role in the Great Depression. “… the last time a big tariff was instituted in the United States back during the Great Depression, all the economists agree that it made the Great Depression worse.” I’ve said it many times but it bears repeating here: that’s factually false and is absolute nonsense. First of all, no new, big tariff was implemented during the Great Depression. The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 was a very slight tweaking of the Fordney-McCumber Tariff Act of 1922, raising tariffs overall from 38.5% to 41.4%. Following enactment of Fordney-McCumber, the economy boomed during the “roaring ’20s.”
By the time Smoot-Hawley was enacted, the Great Depression had already been underway for a year. During the Great Depression, America’s balance of trade declined by less than $1 billion while GDP fell by $33 billion. To blame tariffs for the Great Depression is ludicrous. But that didn’t stop economists from doing it, eager to make a case for their new, untested theory about “free” trade.
In the CNN piece following the Mark Shields interview, CNN reports on dire warnings by economists that Mr. Trump’s tariffs would have disastrous consequences for the economy, cutting GDP by up to $1 trillion and would result in the loss of 4 million jobs. Such claims are really puzzling, given the fact that economists know very well that a trade deficit is actually a subtraction in the calculation of GDP. It’s impossible that bringing back manufacturing would do anything other than boost GDP dramatically. Merely balancing trade in manufactured goods would be an $800 billion boost to the economy. That would be a 4% jump in GDP which, not coincidentally, is what Trump has targeted for economic growth. Any further surplus in trade in manufactured goods would boost the economy even more. And instead of cutting 4 million jobs, it would actually create approximately 10 million jobs.
Free trade advocates claim that manufacturing jobs don’t matter any more, that most manufacturing is automated and there are few jobs there to be had. If that’s true, then why do so many badly overpopulated nations with huge, bloated work forces cling so desperately to the manufacturing that they do for the American consumer? Certainly, automation has improved productivity in manufacturing, but not nearly to the extent that free traders would have you believe. Consider the production of the supposedly high-tech cell phones like the i-phone. Their manufacture is about as low tech as you can get – thousands of people assemble the circuit boards by hand in China.
During one of the CNN segments, the reporter comments that “cars aren’t really built from scratch any more. They’re assembled. Those plants in Mexico will be assembling them from American-made parts.” As if the process of assembly requires no effort, and as if cars haven’t been built that way since Henry Ford invented the assembly line. I can tell you from personal experience, having toured the Dearborn plant where Ford builds the Focus, that it takes a lot of workers to make an assembly plant “tick.” Watching a stack of sheet metal being turned into a finished automobile in less than 24 hours is truly awe-inspiring. Having toured both auto assembly plants and electronics manufacturing, I can tell you that an auto assembly plant is far more “high-tech” than electronics production.
Trump’s plans to use tariffs to return manufacturing back to the U.S. is exactly what the American economy needs – and is exactly the thing that globalists fear the most.