From the President’s Twitter account: “President Xi and I want this deal to happen, and it probably will. But if not remember … I am a Tariff Man.”
“When people or countries come in to raid the great wealth of our Nation, I want them to pay for the privilege of doing so,” the president wrote. “It will always be the best way to max out our economic power. We are right now taking in $billions in Tariffs. MAKE AMERICA RICH AGAIN.”
The mocking reactions were predictable enough from both the right and the left. It’s interesting, too. From the left it seems we’ve finally found a tax the Democrats don’t want to embrace and a willingness to tell unionized industrial workers in America to go pound sand. From the right, we’ve finally found an issue where they’re willing to say that Ronald Reagan was full of it.
“Wait a minute,” you say. “NAFTA had its roots in the Reagan Administration!” True enough, but Reagan’s was also a presidency full of protectionist tariffs and policies*:
- Forced Japan to accept restraints on auto exports;
- Tightened considerably the quotas on imported sugar;
- Negotiated to increase the restrictiveness of the Multifiber Arrangement governing trade in textiles and apparel;
- Required 18 countries, including Brazil, Spain, South Korea, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, Finland, Australia, and the European Community, to accept “voluntary restraint agreements” that reduce their steel imports to the United States;
- Imposed a 45% duty on Japanese motorcycles for the benefit of Harley Davidson, which admitted that superior Japanese management was the cause of its problems;
- Raised tariffs on Canadian lumber and cedar shingles;
- Forced the Japanese into an agreement to control the price of computer memory chips;
- Removed third-world countries on several occasions from the duty-free import program for developing nations;
- Pressed Japan to force its automakers to buy more American-made parts;
- Demanded that Taiwan, West Germany, Japan, and Switzerland restrain their exports of machine tools;
- Accused the Japanese of dumping roller bearings on grounds so that the price did not rise to cover a fall in the value of the yen;
- Accused the Japanese of dumping forklift trucks and color picture tubes;
- Extended quotas on imported clothes pins;
- Failed to ask Congress to end the ban on the export of Alaskan oil and timber cut from federal lands;
- Redefined dumping so domestic firms can more easily charge foreign competitors with unfair trade practices;
- Beefed-up the Export-Import Bank, an institution dedicated to distorting the American economy at the expense of the American people in order to artificially promote exports of eight large corporations.
This was not out of character for Reagan. In the 1980 Republican Platform his ideals toward trade was laid out in clear and simple language. “The [Carter] Administration’s inability to ensure fairness and equity between our nation and some of our trading partners has resulted in massive unemployment in many core industries. As we meet in Detroit, this Party takes special notice that among the hardest hit have been the automotive workers whose jobs are now targeted by aggressive foreign competition. Much of this problem is a result of the present Administration’s inability to negotiate foreign trade agreements which do not jeopardize American jobs. We will take steps to ensure competitiveness of our domestic industries to protect American jobs.” (Emphasis mine.)
As international trade agreements began to be hammered out, through the Republican Administrations of the two Bushes and the Democratic Administrations of Clinton and Obama, how did this work out? Not so well? Hey, these jobs are gone and ain’t coming back. No Reaganite worth his salt would embrace Trump’s tariffs, right?
Again, from the ’80 Reagan platform with my emphasis:
The Republican Party believes that protectionist tariffs and quotas are detrimental to our economic well-being. Nevertheless, we insist that our trading partners offer our nation the same level of equity, access, and fairness that we have shown them. The mutual benefits of trade require that it be conducted in the spirit of reciprocity. The Republican Party will consider appropriate measures necessary to restore equal and fair competition between ourselves and our trading partners.
If you asked any conservative if we should unilaterally disarm militarily they would rightfully look at you as if you had grown a second head. Yet, they will insist on complete unilateral disarmament in trade. But, Trump, right?
*Source: Mises Institute