The “liberal” label has been slapped on those who favor public schools, public highways, Social Security and the simpler programs of Medicare and Medicaid. Liberals also favor such socialistic schemes as a tax-paid police force and fire department and an effective national army.
Long ago, in the good old days of conservatism, we had none of the above.
At the same time, the so-called liberals are maligned because they favor free trade, unlike the president. Also unlike the president, many “liberals” believe in the righteous power of the marketplace so long as it is protected from false weights and measures.
Kansas manufacturers and producers – from root cellar to warehouse, farm to factory – were thought to believe in free markets as well. They no longer moved food, fiber and other goods by wagon or rail to Kansas City or Denver; they whisk them over the globe to Europe, the Pacific Rim, Mexico, Latin America.
How odd that our representatives in Washington stay silent as the president tweets through on-again, off-again tariffs and economic sanctions. His putsch last spring to wall off Canadian steel and to drive up the price of bauxite and aluminum was terribly misplaced.
Later came the tariffs on farm products, obliterating our markets for, among other products, soybeans and pork. The president exaggerates the folly by announcing that new American tariffs will be selectively placed and enforced in a perverted kind of blackmail; NAFTA or USMCA come quickly to mind. History should recall the dangers of high tariffs, quotas and sanctions designed to “protect” American workers and industries.
Trade barriers accomplish little more than higher prices for consumers; they can result in shoddy merchandise and limited choices due to limited domestic production. American consumers are thus penalized for the benefit of the few. (Consider the reverse tariff on electronics.)
The president’s reckless adventures recall the Smoot Hawley Tariff Act, signed by President Hoover in 1930. Its high tariffs prompted retaliatory tariffs and world trade wars that stimulated the Great Depression, further heated European inflation and incubated the seeds of a second world war.
Kansas farmers, known for their short memories, have suffered a history of sanctions, embargoes and economic reprisals for political purposes. President Trump’s $28 billion in two farm handouts this year is an insulting kind of hush money, pocket change against the dismantling of hard-won global markets. Over the years our grain and meat exports have been jerked ever downward as presidents and other politicians used food as a weapon. For this we have lost Cuba. Asia, Latin America and much of Europe are developing other more dependable suppliers. We are left to wring our hands.
Kansas delegates have done next to nothing. In the Senate, Pat Roberts plans his retirement; Jerry Moran continues to wait-and-see. Rep. Roger Marshall, Trump’s Charlie McCarthy, awaits fresh talking points from the White House to boost his Senate campaign.
Trump and his conservatives seem to believe that Americans are not smarter, more efficient and hard-working than other nationals and that we must dig a hole, pull a lid over and snarl about the unfairness of it all. We shout for free enterprise but rarely practice it. We teach courses in entrepreneurship and exercise it through protectionist lobbies in Topeka and Washington.
If the Japanese, regardless of Pearl Harbor, and the Chinese, regardless of Mao, can make better gadgets at better prices, why not be their customers? Why pay through the nose for the benefit of Detroit and Pittsburg or Silicon Valley? “Made in USA” is fine, but aren’t we all immigrants?
Trump remains unaware that free trade with Japan or Germany is a pipe dream because the Japanese and Germans have devised high and seemingly artificial obstacles to imports from the United States. Our farmers and manufacturers are at a disadvantage in competition with Europeans because the European market and its members subsidize many of its exports, particularly farm products.
For most years our sales abroad have been handicapped by the strength of the dollar against foreign currencies. Although a strong dollar enables us to buy bargains abroad and ride cruise boats on the Rhine, it also tends to inhibit our sales to foreign markets. We may enjoy low-priced imports but we can suffer high-priced exports.
Economics, that dismal science, is not as simple as the dogmatic and sloganeering Trumpeters would have it. Faults may be found in the noblest of ideas and snares in the path of our most reasonable progress. Tariffs in the name of “national security” have been proved time and again to impede that security and rarely, if ever, enhance it.