by David Harsanyi | March 12, 2016 12:02 am
As I was listening to Donald Trump’s performance art/news conference the other night, I wondered whether it was even worth writing another column 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, high-tech 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 though 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 would be) every time they renew a cellphone plan?
All you people with Samsung phones (Samsung is the nation’s top seller, with 22.5 percent of U.S. market share) could look forward to similar costs embedded into your plans — unless, for some reason, South Korea would be granted immunity from Trump’s protectionism.
Trump might be used to gold-plated phones on his private Boeing 757, but average Americans can’t afford to pay double their cellphone bill.
These price hikes extend to food and transportation — and anything else you can think of.
Take Wal-Mart, 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 Wal-Mart 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 Wal-Mart to double the price of your grocery bill. Or take a look at any list of the most sought-after affordable cars in the United States. You will notice that it is 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 4 million cars in the United States in 2015 — in Ohio, Indiana, Alabama, Georgia and 10 other states? In February 2016, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler accounted for about 47 percent of automakers’ U.S. market share. Japanese companies such as Toyota, Honda and Nissan made up about 33 percent. And 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 — would 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 also would be bound to make those cars more expensive. Maybe this is what people want.
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 a sea change in politics. Do I believe that 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 argue abstract truths (and I’ve been guilty of this), maybe it’s time to concentrate on the pain American consumers would feel if Trump got his way.
David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist and the author of “The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy.” Follow him on Twitter @davidharsanyi.
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