The Upside of Protectionism
While everyone is bemoaning the US Administration raising tariffs on the ‘usual suspects’ and placing new tariffs on new players, like India, nobody’s talking about the situation’s upside or the upside’s potential to grow over time.
We constantly hear the mainstream bang in our heads the importance of trade, international trade in particular – bilateral agreements being seen as out of fashion. But we rarely hear the domestic market being brought up at all. Aren’t countries exposing themselves to numerous risks of varying degrees and different natures by allowing the unhindered flow of international capital to dictate their fate? Aren’t we, the people at grassroots, tired of politicians apologizing to trans-national companies about how they can’t give them sufficient tax breaks and other privileges in order to sway them to dismantle operations somewhere else and open them up here? Aren’t we tired with corporations outsourcing every little thing? Aren’t we tired of the narrow-minded focus on lowering costs while completely ignoring the necessity of giving people good jobs that pay big wages, from which workers can spend enough to secure better lives [without needing to use credit cards] while also allowing them to leave some money idle on their balance sheet for rainy days? [i.e. to postpone consumption into the future].
The home market is the most important of any nation, and for decades the prevailing orthodoxy is that capital knows best, that capital subservient to the Globalist outlook of world affairs. It’s dangerous to allow people to vote on their own fate. It’s dangerous to give people bargaining power, because then the State will surely become tyrannical as a result, will ‘oppress’ big capital, and that tariffs and Government industrial subsidies just end up raising prices, hurting the poor the most. I’m tired of this false empathy. The same analysts who are shedding [crocodile] tears for the poor and slamming tariffs are the same ones who, for decades, have relentlessly tried to conflate the stock-market with the real economy. Manufacturing jobs are vanishing? That’s great for the country, because the stock-market’s going up. Wages are stagnating, while big corporations have record profit? That’s great, because the stock-market’s going up and you can import very cheaply from China. Who decides international trade? Some democratic, accountable, and transparent forum? Of course not.
Richard Wolff, a Marxian economist, often tries to confuse the audience by conflating tariffs with economic warfare, citing WW1 and WW2 as the byproduct. It’s nothing short of sophistry. A tariff is slapped on foreign goods meant for the domestic market, with the aim to protect the market share of domestic firms and thus grow domestic industry, in both size and specializations [diversification]. It’s not the same as economic warfare. It’s not the same as stopping foreign economic agents and states from doing business [buying and selling] with third parties. It’s not the same as freezing or confiscating assets owned by foreign entities. It’s not the same as denying foreign shippers the right of passage or the right to dock, or seizing their cargo.
The argument about how much revenue tariffs can or can’t bring in is a red herring. The purpose of Government money taxation is threefold: a) to create permanent demand for Government currency, giving it thus extrinsic value, and allowing the Government to provision itself with labor and materials b) to drain income out of the economy, regulating thus the levels of Aggregate Demand and keeping prices in check c) to penalize and or incentivize various socio-economic activities and behaviors.
With the right type of taxation in place, economic agents pursue productive [wealth creative] activities, as opposed to unproductive ones [wealth extractive], and they are thus able to meet their tax obligations. The State’s goal should be wealth creation, full employment, and price stability. Real constraints for a sovereign state are: available land, available labor, available materials, and technology level. There will always be enough Government funds for this project or that program, so long as there’s political will for it.
Aren’t we tired of demand leakages at home, which make the country run far below maximum capacity? Aren’t we tired of exporting net aggregate demand, so that foreign actors can use those funds to bid up our asset prices? Aren’t we tired to compete against foreign enterprises who underpay and overwork their labor and rape the environment? Aren’t we tired of eroding national sovereignty by surrendering more and more of the country’s economy to trans-national, foreign interests? Let’s have businesses, large and small, invest in capital equipment and labor training, instead of expecting the State to do all the heavy lifting by itself, so that capital can get away with higher and higher markups while investing less and less. Let’s promote an economy in which land and labor are placed before finance – and in which finance serves public purpose, instead of subverting it.
Comparative advantage is a state of affairs that works for the wealthy. So-called free trade has worked out great for those at the top, but not for those at the bottom. Mainstream media and mainstream think tanks portray less educated workers as stupid and dangerous [dangerous for the well-to-do woke], because they favor tariffs. They never mention the fact that this particular trade policy falsely touted as “free” has been used as a most proficient weapon against them in class warfare. Offshoring and outsourcing didn’t lower total production costs. More so, the national system of production was rendered more vulnerable and risky [in civilian and martial terms] when we take into account the loss of critical manufacturing facilities and know-how.
“Free” trade was quite good in transferring income from labor [direct human production factors] to the managerial classes. The lower working classes aren’t stupid or insane. They recognize the changes of the last two decades haven’t helped them and wish for a new deal. China’s admission to the WTO, in spite of it not meeting the criteria, was a big factor in the decline of manufacturing jobs.
Liberals and SJWs who insist the Trump phenomenon was caused by the racism of white, straight, men in the US are lying through their teeth. While much focus was put by Trump, Sanders, and others on NAFTA for its negative impact on US jobs, the major culprit was China. Many US factories that moved to Mexico did so in the logic of matching prices from China.
Professor Brad DeLong explained how the Ricardian [mythology] view is unrealistic and why it favors the rich.
“[…] comparative advantage is the ideology of a market system that works for the interest of the wealthy. For comparative advantage is the market economy on the international scale, and the market economy is […] a collective human device for satisfying the wants of the well off, and the well off are those who control the scarce resources that are useful for producing things for which the rich of the world have a serious jones [fixation].”
In the early ’90s, more and more manufacturing jobs in the United States went overseas. The trend amplified, as entry-level jobs in some white-collar professions like the law now share the same fate. In the realm of software, few positions are left in the US, which will be ceded to experts in India, because the ideological consensus holds that the training of a new generation of specialists at home is untenable. Meanwhile, countries like China, South Korea, and Japan – who practice protectionism – don’t have to worry about such issues. “Protectionism causes depression” is nothing short of fear-mongering. People at grassroots recognize this scam without being savvy in trade and econ theory. They vote on instinct and their instinct is correct.
Mainstream economics, the foundation of policy-making in most countries, isn’t grounded in scholarship. It’s propaganda, highly valued bs because its proponents put out fancy equations when challenged. There’s nothing wrong with their math, but everything’s wrong with their assumptions. See one stark example here.
Tariffs are one way to strive for economic and geopolitical independence, but they’re just an instrument. The larger scheme has to rest on investment, training, diversification, and development. A nation’s true wealth rests in the full and multifaceted development of its productive powers, not its current exchange values. A nation must never sacrifice the former for the latter, for the promise it will be assured an important and comfy role as a mere cog in the grand scheme of Globalization. Autarky or efforts toward autarky have been described by the mainstream and the wannabe anti-mainstream as the goal of racists, nazis or fascists, and misanthropes.
The hypocrisy is telling, no? It’s good for a household to be independent from the grid [from everyone else] in terms of electricity; but when countries attempt economic independence [through their State institutions and policies], it’s bad and dangerous – it’s a case of tyrannical Government, led by racist extremists. According to these enlightened Globalists [some of whom are capitalists, some socialists, and others, mixed – like DiEM25], a country, any country, should always be dependent on another’s labor, another’s equipment, another’s fuel, another’s know-how, another’s military. To try and minimize those relations of interdependence is a crime… a declaration of war against civilization itself. To these humanist jackals I say, don’t worry, you’ll all get comfy, prestigious jobs as controlled opposition in the next paradigm; so spare us the hyperbole, the doomsday scenarios, and your demonization of independent, national, political economies.