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Thorner: Are tariffs really bad for the US economy?



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By Nancy Thorner –

Tariffs were once regarded as right and necessary for this nation as protective measures necessary for economic growth. As a matter of historical fact, protectionism was the position of almost all the Founding Fathers. By the early part of the 1800s, there was not what would today be termed a “free trader” in the bunch.

George Washington had this to say:  A free people … should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent on others for essentials, particularly military supplies. 

Thomas Jefferson wrote in an 1815 letter to John-Baptists Say, a French economist: 

The prohibiting duties we lay on all articles of foreign manufacture which prudence indeed requires us to establish at home, with the patriotic determination of every good citizen to use no foreign article which can be made within ourselves, without regard to difference of price, secures us against a relapse into foreign dependency. 

Lincoln Abraham declared:

“Give us a protective tariff and we will have the greatest nation on earth." Lincoln warned that "the abandonment of the protective policy by the American Government… must produce want and ruin among our people.”

Lincoln similarly said: "If a duty amount to full protection be levied upon an article" that could be produced domestically, "at no distant day, in consequence of such duty," the domestic article "will be sold to our people cheaper than before."  

Based on economies of scale, Lincoln argued that any temporary increase in costs resulting from a tariff would eventually decrease as the domestic manufacturer produced more.  Lincoln did not see a tariff as a tax on low-income Americans because it would only burden the consumer according to the amount the consumer consumed.

President William McKinley, assassinated in office Sept. 14, 1901, stated this stance under the Republican Party:  

“Under free trade the trader is the master and the producer the slave. Protection is but the law of nature, the law of self-preservation, of self-development, of securing the highest and best destiny of the race of man.[83] [It is said] that protection is immoral…. Why, if protection builds up and elevates 63,000,000 [the U.S. population] of people, the influence of those 63,000,000 of people elevates the rest of the world. We cannot take a step in the pathway of progress without benefiting mankind everywhere.”

For McKinley. free trade destroys the dignity and independence of American labor… It will take away from the people of this country who work for a living, and it will take from them heart and home and hope. It will be self-destruction.  McKinley also rejected the "cheaper is better" argument outright.

As noted above, tariffs are what kept America’s manufacturing alive.  It provided our people with decent jobs, and it gave us the ability to purchase quality goods produced by American owned companies.  Most people do not realize that tariffs once supported the entire cost of running our country for a period of 126 years until a federal income tax was imposed.  Passed by Congress on July 2, 1909, and ratified February 3, 1913, the 16th amendment established Congress's right to impose a Federal income,  which is a far cry from what our founders envisioned for America’s citizens.  Prior to 1913, Americans were responsible for themselves and independent enough to know that their future depended not on the government, but solely on themselves.

Protectionism falls out of favor

It was after World War II when this nation began switching from a policy of protection, to one of "free trade."

Those who believe that America’s economic tradition has been economic liberty and wide-open cowboy capitalism to include free trade are not dealing with reality. All four president on Mount Rushmore were protectionist making protectionism the real American way: Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Lincoln.  

International trade deals were used as a means of diplomacy and alliance-building, which slowly eroding and ultimately destroyed America’s status as the world’s dominant manufacturing power.   The U.S. promoted the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1947 to minimize tariffs and other restrictions and to liberalize trade among all capitalist countries. In 1995 GATT became the World Trade Organization (WTO), when with the collapse of Communism its open markets/low tariff ideology became dominant worldwide in the 1990s. Without former protective tariffs, many rust belt industries faded or collapsed, especially the manufacture of steel, TV sets, shoes, toys, textiles clothing, and the car industry. 

In 1992, ads in local newspapers encouraged businesses to transfer their manufacturing to Honduras, El Salvador, the Caribbean Basin International Development Zone, of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.  These were International Free Trade Zones and Port Industrial Free Zones. This included MexicoHundreds of companies moved their plants out of our country, and this was 27 years ago. 

President Trump and China tariffs

On May 14, 2019  Victor David Hanson wrote:  

“In the initial stages of Westernization, China was exempted from criticism over serial copyright and patent infringement, dumping, and espionage.”

“Somehow, we forgot that nations that copy the West do not do so out of empathy or veneration. More often, they pick and choose what to buy, steal, or copy, entirely in their own interest. They often see superior Western science arising despite, not because of, Western freedom, and therefore they think it can be improved upon when grafted to a properly authoritarian or totalitarian root.”

When President Donald J. Trump announced the U.S. would impose a 25 percent border tax on Chinese imports, he fulfilled the promise he made to the American people to put America First.  His action shows we have a president who is standing up for the working men and women of America, not the business interests of a small slice of the corporate sector.

Multiple forms of ongoing Chinese aggression have been played down by media commentator, including the following: 

  • The Chinese People’s Liberation Army has been systematically hacking the computers of our businesses, government and military. China “promised” the Obama administration it would stop its cyber-espionage, but that “promise” is worth as much as all the other “promises” Beijing has made over the decades – nothing.
  • China forces foreign businesses to hand over their blueprints and technology to a Chinese “partner” as a condition of access to the Chinese market. This “partner” then sets up a new company that competes against the foreign business using the technology and blueprints.
  • China’s intellectual property theft, through cyber-espionage, old-fashioned espionage, counterfeiting and coerced technology transfer, has cost American businesses hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Those losses kill American companies, industries and jobs.
  • China is killing more than jobs and industries in America – it’s killing people. China is flooding the U.S. with fentanyl, the potent synthetic heroin that’s responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans. China’s Communist government tracks every move its citizens make but claims it’s unable to shut down the factories producing these deadly drugs.

Trump's action against China is more than about cheap T-shirts and TVs. It's about our country and our way of life, as the People's Republic of China is striving to become the leading power in the world.

On February 20, 2019, Asia expert, Gordon Chang on Fox Business with Lou Dobbs urged President Trump to remain strong on tariffs and to continue pressure on the Chinese as the only way to prevent Chinese theft and trade imbalance.   Chang told Dobbs, “We have seen so many trade negotiations between previous presidents and the Chinese. They have all failed. The Chinese have violated every single agreement. This is really important for us. This is where we either stand or we fail, and the only thing that’s going to get us there is President Trump.” 

The Mexican Border and Trade

The Never-Trumpers tell us the cost of raising tariffs on China and Mexico will be passed along to the American consumer, but what about the war Mexico has been waging on the American consumer for decades, first by sending us their poor and their criminals and now by passing along the same from Central America.

President Trump threatened tariffs on Mexico being raised every single month until something was done by Mexico to stop them.  According to the State Department, Mexico agreed to dispatch 6,000 national guardsmen at the border with Guatemala to block migrants from reaching the United States and expand a Trump administration program that holds thousands of asylum-seekers in Mexico during U.S. immigration processing.  Over 90 percent of those released into America never appear in court and are free to remain in America.

If Mexico’s actions “do not have the expected results,” additional measures could be taken within 90 days, and the two countries will continue to discuss add-on steps during that period.  This includes tariffs on Mexican goods coming into our country increasing every month until this influx of illegal aliens is quelled.   Without our President and without these tariff threats, there would have been no deal.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson put more than 100,000 National Guard troops on the Mexican border.  The military buildup followed an early-morning raid at the garrison town of Columbus, New Mexico. Ten soldiers and eight civilians were killed when the Mexican revolutionary leader General Francisco “Pancho” Villa attacked with almost 500 men.

It’s time for America to put thousands upon thousands of National Guard troops on our border again, armed with equipment to prevent the surge of illegals from entering our country.


In his 1998 book, The Great Betrayal, Pat Buchanan makes this very point:

 “The most perilous aspect [of free trade] … is the loss of U.S. sovereignty and the potential loss of nationhood itself. Look at Europe. Nations there are meekly transferring control of their defense and foreign policy, of trade and immigration policy, to a super-state called the European Union; they are even giving up control of their currencies, which means control of their destinies. And what is happening to France, Britain, Germany, Italy, will happen here if we do not wake up. Once a nation has put its foot onto the slippery slope of global free trade, the process is inexorable, the end inevitable: death of the nation-state.”

Tariffs are the answer.  The only way our nation can regain control of trade that benefits American citizens is through tariffs.  Neither China nor Mexico will cave to our demands unless they suffer the consequences of American tariffs.

To right the wrongs can be painful for a short time, but in the long run will revive and restore our country.


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  1. The claim that the new USA tariff’s on foreign goods would raise consumer prices has been debunked. Donald Trump’s declaration that tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods resulted in a deluge of outrageous fear mongering. The reports are in – reports show prices did not rise.
    In fact, Donald Trump’s insistence that American consumers do not suffer from tariffs is entirely borne out by the data.
    On June 11, 2019, John Carney at Breitbart reports:
    “So who’s paying for the tariffs?” The U.S. government has collected billions in tariffs, so it is clear that someone is footing the bill. Tariffs are taxes, but unlike a sales tax or a gas tax, consumers do not directly pay any tariffs. Tariffs are paid by importers, often large U.S. companies that are importing from their own foreign subsidiaries or foreign contractors. Sometimes they have to absorb the costs instead of raising prices… Regarding aluminum tariffs; it’s likely that businesses have been better able to absorb the higher prices of imported goods or tariffed metals because last year’s massive cut in the corporate tax rate gave a big boost to after-tax profits. That softens the blow of tariffs.”
    More here: https://bit.ly/2JnVqd0

  2. Tomorrow I am going to Wisconsin. One of the reason is to reduce taxes for fuel.
    Years ago I did the same in Italy. All the time I lived in Italy. I bought about 3 gallons of gasoline.
    Now I need to do the same in Illinois. The government of Illinois is trying to destroy the private sector of the economy. Trump is defending the people. Our Socialist in Illinois Pritzker, Cullerton and Madigan are as corrupt as Stalin.
    Love Saves Lives
    Carl Lambrecht