We need both protection (ism) and trade…

January 24, 2017

Trump is tearing up the free-trade deals. One way to look at it is that he is moving away from globalization which many blame for wreaking havoc on our economy and way of life, but maybe you can’t really run from the global economy but you can get a better deal, and I think that is what he has said he would do all along.

Can he do it? We will see. There is going to be pressure on his own party members in congress by many large corporations not to kill the goose that laid the golden egg, American workers be damned.

He definitely sounded the protectionist theme in his inauguration address. And he has promised to slap higher taxes or tariffs onto goods coming into the country and punish companies that send work overseas and then import products back into the U.S.

I have mixed emotions. I mean there is no mixed emotion about what I think of Trump the man — he is a vile character. But he is president and he has the power to do things — the ability, we’ll see.

But I have thought and wrote ever since I began this blog more than eight years ago that there is no reason we cannot stress Made in America and rebuild our great productive power. I have always lamented what I think was the wrong-headed thinking of moving to the so-called “service economy”. But at the same time I recognized that we would likely have to move carefully and avoid the protectionism that history indicates resulted in the Great Depression.

And while I do not pretend to understand the complexities of international trade I have been part of it on a down-to-earth basis for the past two decades working as an over-the-road truck driver. A large percentage of the hauling I have done involves international trade, much of it between the U.S. and Mexico. As an example, I have hauled particle board from Oregon to the Mexican border to be forwarded on into Mexico, and then hauled produce from Mexico back to Oregon. The highway lanes go both ways folks.

It seems to me that years ago I hauled apples to the port of Seattle to be shipped to Australia but that I also at times picked up apples coming in from Australia. I know I have hauled grapes out of California’s Central Valley that were home-grown, but ironically I have hauled grapes out of the same coolers that originated in the South American nation of Chile. The seasons are opposite of course on either side of the equator.

One heck of a lot of jobs are tied up in international trade all up and down the line involving transportation (drivers, warehouse workers, buyers and brokers), and retail marketing, and various other sectors. And in the case of produce, the consumer gets an abundant supply all year around at arguably reasonable prices.

But would you say U.S. agriculture is for free trade? Depends. If you grow rice or walnuts I would think so. A major portion of those crops are marketed overseas. But lemon growers have successfully got Trump to put the brakes shipments of lemons from Argentina into the U.S. (just happened to read that, and I think it may be just a temporary hold).

However, in my way of thinking it is a shame that in a nation such as ours with such abundant land and natural resources we cannot produce what we need to supply ourselves and keep ourselves employed while we are at it. We would wind up paying a lot more for some things and I imagine some products would disappear from the shelves.

I don’t think we want to close our borders to all imports, even if that were possible. But it seems we have gone too far the other way. Employment statistics from the government are somewhere between skewed and misleading to useless. Look around. There are far too many people unemployed or under employed and far too many who have to work for too low of a wage to sustain an acceptable style of living. And too many young people face bleak job prospects, and we are producing generations in some levels of society who do not even know what work is.

Trump seems to be taking the hardball approach, tearing up trade agreements to force a better deal, but some observers are concerned that pulling out of the Trans Pacific Partnership (congress never ratified it but Trump has officially pulled us out) will cede the leadership in trade over to China.

But I do like the idea of Made in America.

Our best hope would to be to compete at the upper level in quality like Germany does, not at the lower level like China and many of the third-world countries do (and I in no way mean that all Chinese imports or ones from other nations are always inferior).

p.s.

This nation has depended upon world trade from its beginnings and will continue to do so, but of course each nation, including ours, has to look out for its own interests, and that means putting its people first.

 


Made in America, why not?

June 17, 2008

(copyright)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

Not so many years ago, Walmart touted products “Made in America.” But that fell by the wayside, I suppose when they discovered that it was not all that easy to find products really made in America.

Walmart not only abandoned the Made in America promotion, it expanded its retail empire into China.

I do a transport blog, and a railroad spokesperson pointed out to me that a major portion of the freight that rolls down the tracks and down the highways is imports. We’re “goods handlers” more than “goods manufacturers” these days, the spokesman said.

Once upon a time, I thought, what the heck, if someone can make a shirt in Cambodia and sell it to me cheaper than something made here, I don’t mind saving the money. But over time, I began to lament and even puzzle over the fact that we seemed to have decided we can’t make things in our own country (of course we do, but not anywhere like we did at one time).

And where’s the quality?

My wife bought me some brand new colored T-shirts from Sears, made in Cambodia. I always wash new stuff before I wear it (you know, someone else has probably tried it on). I used cold water, and gentle cycle as I recall. At any rate, I got a pile of red colored lint that could have nearly stuffed a couch.

The first time I pulled that sucker on, a little hole ripped along the shoulder seam.

They say we’d have to pay too much for the labor if we made them here. Gee, what’s wrong with paying people decent wages and then getting some quality in return?

Take T-shirts, for example. We raise a lot of cotton right here in the United States. Why do we ship it over to China or Cambodia or Vietnam or across the border to Mexico or Central America? Actually I don’t know how it all gets done. I know it has to be loomed somewhere. Clothing often says it’s “assembled” in, you name the country, just not the USA.

The escalating cost of fuel — even for ships — notwithstanding, the modern forms of ocean transportation, combined with low wages overseas, make it economically feasible to do some strange things:

When I started truck driving in the mid 90s, I once hauled a load of knit Christmas items with the labels “made in China,” such as caps and little dolls and so on, from Los Angeles to Atlanta, Ga. When I examined the shipping papers, I noticed that they originally arrived in the United States at New York, then were shipped to LA and now I was taking them back to the East Coast.

I was so mad about that T-shirt the other day, that I went into a darn we ought to just make everything here and close our borders to all that import stuff mode.

Then I read in my hometown paper today that a local printing business (not the newspaper) does business with customers overseas (strangely enough, our newspaper out sources some of its ad production work overseas).

I also remember the idea is that if we could get the third world economies up to ours, we would have a more level playing field when it comes to trade, an expanded market for U.S. business.

China is fast becoming an industrial power, though. We may not be able to afford some of their stuff in the near future. I understand some garment makers are moving production to places such as Vietnam.

But, at any rate, I do think as a nation we should, our leaders should, think seriously about re-industrializing ourselves. It would help our economy by creating more cash flow within our own country, add the protection of diversification (then mortgage meltdowns wouldn’t be so deadly), and put a lot of folks back to work in generally speaking better paying jobs, better than Burger King, Walmart, 7-11, whatever.

Those low paying jobs ought to be reserved for basically school kids and perhaps oldsters who by choice re-enter the work force for some extra cash, and I guess, realistically, for anyone who can’t find a job anywhere else.

And don’t get me started on those idle by choice, who could be doing some of the lower paying jobs, therefore alleviating the need for the illegal alien workforce that is a drain on our social service resources, that until recent years was looked at with a wink and a nod.

It isn’t only in farm labor and motel cleaning and restaurant kitchens in which we find undocumented workers. There are many of them in the construction trades. Ask any veteran craftsman and you will be told about how contractors (and I suppose the investors and others who support them) have cheapened the quality of work done here in America. It can’t all be pegged on the illegals, but that’s part of the problem.

The illegals also work in the meat processing industry, an industry with less than a stellar record.

So not only are the illegals taking jobs, they are part of a trend that has lowered the quality of our industry.

And the emphasis over the years on marketing over quality has hurt our auto industry.

My wife and I have been driving Nissans from Japan since the early 1970s. When we bought our first new car, we needed something we could afford, something economical to run, and something that would hold up. At the time, American cars had a bad reputation. My boss at that time bought a brand new American car and had nothing but trouble with it from the start. We drove our Nissan (actually called a Datsun at the time) for some 15 years or more (of course we had some repairs along the way).

I don’t follow the auto industry closely. But correct me if I’m wrong. Detroit missed the boat on economy and quality years ago, and with this new energy crisis they are way behind the curve now.

Actually our whole nation is behind the curve. But I think we could get our groove back with the right attitude.

We need the industry, the craftsman trades, and the quality, along with the high tech, and even the financial sector, the latter who we would only hope would look more inward at the United States of America in a new spirit of patriotism, a spirit defined more on how can we build the USA, rather than how can we remake or come to the rescue of societies elsewhere.