As always, I’m honored when readers bother to rebut my columns, as did Ken Whaley of Rock Spring in a letter to the editor defending free trade, and again in a half-page column last week.
I’m tempted to say I’d be equally honored by the occasional favorable response, incidentally, but I probably ought to refrain, since I’m ill prepared financially for a stay at the nearest trauma center.
Besides, the chilling thought occurs, I may be the only Walker Countian opposed to unrestricted, go-for-broke, winner-take-all free trade.
In a letter titled “Return to hard work needed,” and a column headed “Job changes should be viewed as a challenge,” Mr. Whaley asks a number of valid questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them.
First, allow me to comment on the titles. A return to hard work is indeed needed, as jobless former employees at Blue Bird, Mount Vernon, Caron, Ronile and other plants will attest.
There are few cushy jobs in local manufacturing. People are drawn to them, nevertheless, because the wages and benefits they offer are more conducive to keeping a home and family than so-called service jobs, which often lead nowhere.
I’ve been there. In so many cases, these jobs aren’t just a livelihood but a very way of life, no matter that the work is hard, and being cut loose, suddenly, can be devastating.
These aren’t mere job changes, they’re job eradications, and if working people don’t see this as a challenge it’s because they can’t be retooled, like machinery — even if new work were available — in time to meet the next tax bill or car payment.
Next, Mr. Whaley seems to think I somehow favor “bigger government programs and higher taxes.” Actually, I fight new taxes tooth and nail; government is no less obliged to live within its means than the working people of this county, and that entails, increasingly, reduced means.
As for government size, I pretty much agree with the fabled old farmer: “Gov’mint oughta guard the border, deliver the mail, and stay the h--- out of everything else.”
The federal government is unrivaled in its incompetency, as the old fellow undoubtedly knew. The one thing it might be able to do right — minding the border — it doesn’t do at all.
Then, Mr. Whaley questions the title of my column, “A rising economy and a dying job market.” He asks, “How can the economy be rising when jobs are being lost?”
This is a logical question, one so important I’d rather have it answered by an expert, columnist and former Treasury official Paul Craig Roberts.
“Despite the economic recovery, the unemployment rate has risen to a nine-year high,” he writes. “How can this be?”
A domestic economy based increasingly on consumption, rather than production, Mr. Roberts explains, is an economy of declining living standards.
“As the U.S. makes less and less of what it consumes, it runs a massive trade deficit. We pay for those foreign-made goods by giving up ownership of our assets — our companies, our real estate, stocks and bonds.
“Thus, foreigners gain not only the incomes from the manufacturing jobs but also the profits, rents, capital gains, dividends and interest from the assets.”
In short, we’re losing income from millions of lost manufacturing jobs, as well as the trillions of dollars in assets we no longer own.
“Allegedly, we are gaining it back in lower prices from cheaper foreign-made goods. But once the trade deficit drives down the dollar, the foreign-made goods won’t be cheap any longer. We will still have the twin evils of high prices and lost incomes.”
The current “jobless recovery” makes for a smoke-and-mirrors economy whose days are numbered. “Free traders,” Mr. Roberts cautions, “forgetting that consumers have to work in order to consume, think everything is fine as long as consumers are paying lower prices.”
In addition, Mr. Whaley asks, “Could it be the employment opportunities enjoyed in our area are decreasing due to a change in demand and not outside competition?”
Could be, I suppose, but local plants — those still in operation — appear still to be producing a little carpet, hosiery, denim and yarn, along with a few school buses and kitchen ranges. Surely somebody somewhere finds them still useful, and thank goodness.
“Has Mr. Theus forgotten what made our country great?” Mr. Whaley continues. Well, no, or at least I don’t think so, but I’ll step aside once again so that William Gill of Americans for Trade Defense can reply.
The American Revolution was fought over trade and the Founders established tariffs to protect our industry and agriculture, he says. “This is what built America, not ‘free’ trade.”
In 1913, the income tax replaced the tariff, which had provided “the lion’s share of funds for running the federal government for 125 years,” he writes.
As a result, “the firm foundation upon which our country grew to become the greatest nation in all history” was sacrificed.
Patrick Buchanan agrees. Tariffs “converted America into the greatest industrial power the world has ever seen with the highest wages and standard of living on earth.”
The Founders believed, as did Republicans once upon a time, “that trade laws should be crafted with the vital strategic interests of the republic always in mind, not the whimsical desires of fickle consumers.”
Finally, Mr. Whaley suggests that the blame for an unsteady economy shouldn’t be placed solely on Republicans. I agree wholeheartedly. It was Democrats under Woodrow Wilson, after all, who scrapped tariffs and launched the free trade era leading to rampant consumerism.
But Republicans are in the driver’s seat now, and if they continue to follow the lap-dog trade policies brought forward by Democrats, policies with which the President is obsessed, they will lose a lot of ground in the coming election.
I appreciate and respect Mr. Whaley’s opinions, and I commend him for having the spirit to present them. I truly wish more Walker Countians would follow his lead in expressing their views.
Tom Theus, a LaFayette resident, is a freelance writer