(As published in the Leavenworth Times, December 2013.)
Since forever, there have been people who insist on free, unrestricted international trade in manufactured goods. Supposedly, this brings low prices and higher quality.
Foreign goods compete with America’s goods, and the consumer benefits. Or does he?
America used to make everything: autos, shoes, clothing, electronics, housewares, watches, etc. We were the best. Around fifty years ago, we were the world’s greatest steelmaker. What happened? In 2012, China produced 1547 million metric tons, we produced 89.
Our industries can’t produce goods as cheaply as foreign firms, which have much, much lower labor costs. Foreign firms can compete one of two ways: either make something as good as our product and sell it at a much lower price; or spend more labor on it, produce higher quality than we can and sell at a slightly lower price. The former keeps China’s industries going at our expense. The latter is how Japanese automakers took over much of our market. Our automakers are just now catching up on quality.
Businesses must make a profit to survive. When our manufactures are far outsold, they shut down, and America loses jobs. That has been going on for decades.
Yet, with only a few exceptions (mostly in electronics), we can make anything here. Given a fair shake, we could even make electronic goods here.
Here’s my proposal: don’t allow any foreign manufactured goods to be imported, providing we can make them here. Foreign firms can still sell their goods in the U.S., providing they are made in a plant they build here, with American workers.
We could continue to import oil,ores, and other raw materials, as well as specialty food items such as wines, cheeses, etc.
American firms often have plants outside the U.S. Forbid their importing their products. Stop their outsourcing.
America’s is the largest consumer market in the world. We don’t need foreign goods. We don’t need them, they need us. If we stopped importing, our prices might rise a bit but we would have full employment again. New firms would start up to compete with each other to bring prices down.
Even for the goods we currently can’t make, we could raise tariffs high enough to create manufacturing here.
The big argument against this is that foreign markets would retaliate against our exports. Let them. America can stand on its own.