The above picture is how you should imagine the average American manufacturing worker will look like in the not-so-distant future — whether you elect “fair” traders like Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders or any other mercantilist.
Not that it matters today, of course. As I was listening to Trump’s performance art/press conference the other night, I wondered if it was even worth writing another post about the assorted lies and myths he peddles on trade. I don’t think so.
Trump promises to bring third-world jobs back to an advanced economy, and millions of voters — left and right — find this emotionally satisfying and politically reasonable. Many of these people just want to find work, so it’s understandable. And when the economy is stagnant, you’re not going to allay working-class anxiety by pointing out that capital account surpluses matter more than trade deficits, or that productivity, not foreigners, is realigning the workforce. Even if it’s all true.
People just don’t care.
I do wonder, though, why there hasn’t been more political emphasis on Trump’s promise to make the products average Americans buy every day more expensive. That might matter to voters who are on the fence or haven’t been paying close attention.
Do you like those affordable electronic goods? You know, those giant TVs, cheap laptops, and super pocket computers you’re walking around with? The prices of tech products and services have fallen over the past decade because of many policies Trump rails against. So while a lot of Americans might like the sound of forcing Apple to assemble phones right here in the United States, how would they feel about paying $100 more (or whatever it is) every time they renewed a cell phone plan?
All you people with Samsung phones (the nation’s top seller, with a 22.5 percent of U.S. market share), can also look forward to similar costs embedded into your plans. Unless, for some reason, South Korea is granted immunity from Trump’s protectionism.
Donald Trump might be used to gold-plated phones on his private Boeing 757, but average Americans can’t afford to pay double their cell phone bill!
These price hikes extend to food and transportation — anything else you can think of.
Take Walmart, for instance, which is not only America’s largest employer, but also one that sells affordable goods to vast numbers of working-class people. And the majority of the merchandise Walmart sells, despite its recent nationalistic sales pitch, is manufactured (in part or fully) abroad. If Trump is going to start trade wars and raise tariffs (American consumers, not the Mexican or Chinese government or its oligarchs, will pay for every cent) he should explain how his supercalifragilistic deals will both punish these countries and make goods cheaper for American consumers.
Elect Trump if you want Walmart to double the price of your grocery bill!
Or take a look at any list of the most sought-after affordable cars in the Unites States. You will notice that they are dominated by Japanese (and other foreign) manufacturers. Have you also noticed that Trump’s grievances are always aimed at Mexico, China — guilty of “the greatest theft in the history of the world!” according to Trump — and Japan, but not Germany or Sweden?
The other day Trump said this about Japan, a country that he’s really started focusing on lately:
When Japan thinks you mean it that we’re not going to let them sell the cars like that because they’re killing us. You know what we sell to Japan: practically nothing. They have cars coming in by the millions and we sell practically nothing.
Not going to let them sell cars?
Has Trump told American workers who build Japanese-brand cars — nearly four million cars in the United States in 2015 — in Ohio, Indiana, Alabama, Georgia, and ten other states? In February 2016, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler accounted for nearly 47 percent of automakers’ U.S. market share. Japanese companies like Toyota, Honda, and Nissan made up around 33 percent. Unlike Trump-branded merchandise, a big percentage of those cars are manufactured here in the U.S.
I’m sure laying heavy tariffs on Japan — or whatever “evening the playing field” is supposed to mean — will not only kill jobs in Ohio but almost certainly make the price of affordable foreign cars rise. On the bright side, Trumpism would create more government-guaranteed union jobs, which are also bound to make those cars more expensive. Maybe this is what people want.
And, by the way, do we really sell Japan practically nothing?
Japan is our fourth largest trading partner. We sell them all kinds of things. We sell them more than we sell Germany (we have a larger trade deficit with it than Japan), England, or France.
The backlash against globalization is ongoing, but in the end it’s foot stomping. Thankfully, nothing can really be done to stop it unless there is sea change in politics. Do I believe attacks on the consumer side of protectionism would make a big difference in the election? No. This isn’t a movement dictated by reason. But rather than arguing abstract truths (and I’ve been guilty of this), maybe it’s time to concentrate on the pain America consumers would feel if Trump got his way.
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