From Smirking Chimp
From Thomas Friedman to Barack Obama, from Mitt Romney to John McCain, it's fashionable among the "intelligentsia" and elites of both parties to ridicule "protectionism" as a way to rebuild America.
Yet during his campaign, Donald Trump openly embraced the idea of slapping tariffs on imported goods.
After visiting where I grew up in Michigan for the holidays, I'd argue this was more than half of why he won the Electoral College part of the election of 2016. Protectionism built America, and people here in the industrial Midwest know it. The people, while often mal- and mis-informed by our corporate media, aren't stupid, and many are old enough to remember how good things were for workers when we operated under a nakedly protectionist system of trade.
By abandoning protectionism, we now find ourselves in a situation where we can no longer build a missile without parts from China, a country that could cut us off anytime it chooses.
Every night, in retail stores across the nation, a button is pushed and all the money taken in that day is sucked up into an account in Bentonville, Arkansas (Walmart HQ) or other cities, and then much of that money is immediately sent to China, Vietnam, Mexico and other low-wage nations to pay for the goods bought on American credit cards.
We get cheap goods, they get our money. To the point that our trade deficit with other nations has been hovering in the $600 billion/year range for most of the lives of most millennials. That money makes its way back into the U.S. (it is dollars, after all, so they pretty much ultimately have to be spent here) in the form of massive purchases of our factories, stores and commercial buildings; and now so much is being poured into residential real estate that "housing booms" which are actually bubbles forming all across the country, pricing average Americans out of affordable housing as foreign buyers become our new landlords.
Prior to the Reagan administration, when we still had strong tariffs in place and almost a quarter of our workforce was both engaged in manufacturing and unionized, America was the world's largest creditor nation. More countries owed us money -- mostly from importing our well-made goods -- than any other country in the history of the world.
Today, we are the largest debtor nation in the world, almost entirely because of neoliberal changes in our trade policies, what the best and the brightest call free trade.
Similarly, before Reagan, we were the world's largest exporter of finished, manufactured goods, and the world's largest importer of the materials necessary to make them (from iron ore to exotic woods).
Today, the tables have completely flipped: we're now the world's largest importer of finished goods, and have become one of the world's largest exporters of iron ore, oil/fuel, coal, timber, and other raw materials that are then used to make the goods and packaging that we import back here from China, et al.
When Donald Trump proposed a return to protectionism, he wasn't promoting some bizarre, right-wing theory. It has a long and successful history.
Back in 1790, newly elected President George Washington gave his new Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton what time has shown to be one of the most important duties in the history of America. The British had been able to conquer North America and suppress any sort of insurrections by the British colonists by virtue of the power of their international-trade juggernaut and its principle instrument of power, the British East India Company, almost all of whose stock was owned by the king and members of Parliament.
The principles of British trade were straightforward: Britain first.
Hamilton was just building on King Henry VII's "Tudor Plan" of 1485, which turned England from a backwater state with dirt/mud roads, straw-thatched huts, and raw wool as its chief export into a major developed state that produced fine clothing and other textile products from wool and a wide variety of finished manufactured goods from weaponry to furniture to the technologies of the day.