Free-trade Republicans are boxing President Trump’s ears as if he’s a child who refuses to do his economics homework.
They imply he’s so dumb that he thinks he can use import duties on steel and aluminum to get foreign countries like China to stop cheating on trade deals. He’s so dumb he even wants free trade to be fair trade. He’s so dumb he says these things openly, with no hint of embarrassment.
The ecclesiastes of the free-trade gospel think Mr. Trump is certainly too dumb to understand that China is actually doings us a favor.
Free-trade shamans acknowledge that China’s subsidizing raw metal exports does tend to put unsubsidized American raw metal producers out of business. Why? Because it costs Americans more to turn ore into raw metal than what subsidized producers in China sell their metal for in the U.S.
Free-trade dogmatists, like longshoremen with an attitude, say: “You have a problem with that?”
They’ll tell you, even if you don’t ask, that cheap Chinese raw metal also makes it possible to make cheaper products for our American consumers — even for those consumers made jobless by cheap subsidized Chinese metal.
This is the orthodoxy of the high priests of free trade. Their acolytes teach it in our schools and colleges and spew it from newspaper editorials like those in the Wall Street Journal.
Fervent free-traders shrug when reminded that China produces and heavily subsidizes half the world’s steel and well over half the world’s aluminum.
This means China artificially lowers the price of steel and aluminum it sells to other countries. The U.S. government, miraculously still a bastion of free-market capitalism, doesn’t subsidize its steel and aluminum producers. That means they can’t compete with lower-priced Chinese steel and aluminum. So what happens is that American producers have to cut costs by cutting their workforces and eventually closing plants. Americans lose jobs but, the smiling free-trade fanatics rush to point out, American consumers get buy cheaper manufactured products made with cheap Chinese steel and aluminum.
The pastors of trade purity say poor Mr. Trump wants to upend all this with tariffs because the billionaire businessman doesn’t comprehend even this basic truth: Foreign governments will retaliate by slapping import duties on U.S. exports. Then, warn the free-traders clergy, Mr. Trump will retaliate by raising U.S. tariffs on foreign imports another notch. Back and forth, tit for tat. And before you know it, you have a trade war raging that will end civilization as we’ve come to know it. (Tempting thought, actually.)
Free-trade fanatics predict that U.S. manufacturers of cars and soup cans will find the tariff-laden steel and aluminum they buy too expensive to make cars and cans. Consumer prices everywhere will go through the roof. People won’t be able to afford anything. We’ll all slowly starve to death in the cold and dark.
Not a pretty prospect. Not a real one, either.
Because of Mr. Trump’s tariffs, the real-world facts are that you’ll pay an inconsequential six-tenths of one penny more for your can of Campbell’s chicken-noodle soup. And you’ll have to fork over an extra $175 for your $35,000 Jeep Cherokee Overland, according to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.
Mr. Ross’ numbers have no impact on Free Trade’s Supreme Potentate Paul D. Ryan, who is so orthodox in his trade gospel that he has broken with the president publicly and wants to send Mr. Ross to trade-reeducation camp.
“We are extremely worried about the consequences of a trade war and are urging the White House to not advance with this [tariffs] plan,” Mr. Ryan said through a spokeswoman named AshLee Strong before Mr. Trump signed orders implementing the steel and aluminum tariffs.
Delivering the “two” of the one-two punch, Supreme Commander of Free Trade’s Interior Expeditionary Forces Grover Norquist tweeted this warning: “Trade Wars are Civil Wars. The winners and Losers are both Americans. Producers benefits from raising the prices of Steel/ Aluminum. But industries that use steel/aluminum lose. All consumers lose.”
Mr. Norquist has been so focused on getting politicians to sign his meritorious “no new taxes” pledge that he may not have noticed the U.S. has been in a trade war for many years and has been losing that war for all those years.
Mr. Norquist can check the trade statistics of every government on the planet to confirm that we’re losing that war about which Mr. Trump dares to talk publicly, unlike his predecessors.
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