Make America self-reliant again

Learn the word: autarky

For decades Americans have enjoyed access to cheap goods, due in large part to the fact that we’ve outsourced our industrial and supply capacity to cheap, overseas markets like China and Vietnam. The free traders, roosting in their D.C. think tanks and on Wall Street, worry that the U.S.-China trade war is uprooting our supply chains and that Huawei (shown to have deep connections to the Chinese intelligence apparatus) is only a theoretical threat. They tell us that we must come to terms with China’s rise, that there is no other way. But what if there was?

My critics will more than likely dismiss this idea either insane or reckless. But throughout the late 19th and 20th century, it was a policy that led to prosperity and self-sufficiency. I’m talking about autarky. In our over-globalized world, a policy of total autarky is infeasible. But a degree of autarky should be recognized as self-evidently in America’s national interest.

Autarky, for those unfamiliar, was an economic and industrial policy of self-reliance wherein a nation need not rely on international trade for its economic survival. This is not to say that said nation rejected international trade or isolated itself from the global economic order, rather that it merely could survive on its own if necessary…

In the early days of the American republic, Alexander Hamilton advocated for a limited measure of autarky. Hamiltonian autarky—or industrial self-reliance—aimed to protect weak American industries from foreign manipulation by the likes Great Britain and France. Today, we must look to protect what remains of American industry from the manipulations of state-backed industrial sectors in China…

Critics, namely neoliberal internationalists and free-trade libertarians, will assuredly wail and gnash their teeth about the bounty of cheap consumer goods we have “won” from free trade, but to that I would caution: The United States risks becoming its own special category of the “sick man”—an obese has-been that sinks into a recliner and stuffs its face with cheap consumer goods provided by its global rivals, looking back woefully on its glory days. But it is not yet too late.

Hamilton was far from the only advocate of American economic independence.  Henry Clay, possibly the most influential Congressman in the nation’s history, fervently believed in the “American System” that emphasized a tariff to protect and promote American industry, a national bank to foster commerce, and federal subsidies for roads, canals, and other “internal improvements” to develop profitable markets for agriculture.  It was an inward-looking “America First” way of developing the young nation’s economy into the powerhouse it would eventually become.

Bringing critical manufacturing home reduces our dependence upon others, and provides large numbers of well-paying jobs — jobs that will be essential as our economy recovers from the COVID crisis.  It will also reduce avenues of influence and espionage by our enemies, such as the telecommunication company Huawei.  We’ve been given a glimpse of how helpless we will soon be if we stay on our current path.  Will we be foolish enough to return to the status quo ante when this is all over?

The clueless would-be rulers

Today’s must-read, by Walter Mead:

This is not what his critics expected. At 49% overall job approval in the latest Gallup poll, and with 60% approval of the way he is handling the coronavirus epidemic, President Trump’s standing with voters has improved even as the country closed down and the stock market underwent a historic meltdown. That may change as this unpredictable crisis develops, but bitter and often justified criticism of Mr. Trump’s decision making in the early months of the pandemic has so far failed to break the bond between the 45th president and his political base.

One reason Mr. Trump’s opponents have had such a hard time damaging his connection with voters is that they still don’t understand why so many Americans want a wrecking-ball presidency. Beyond attributing Mr. Trump’s support to a mix of racism, religious fundamentalism and profound ignorance, the president’s establishment opponents in both parties have yet to grasp the depth and intensity of the populist energy that animates his base and the Bernie Sanders movement. . . .

That a majority of the electorate is this deeply alienated from the establishment can’t be dismissed as bigotry and ignorance. There are solid and serious grounds for doubting the competence and wisdom of America’s self-proclaimed expert class. What is so intelligent and enlightened, populists ask, about a foreign-policy establishment that failed to perceive that U.S. trade policies were promoting the rise of a hostile Communist superpower with the ability to disrupt supplies of essential goods in a national emergency? What competence have the military and political establishments shown in almost two decades of tactical success and strategic impotence in Afghanistan? What came of that intervention in Libya? What was the net result of all the fine talk in the Bush and Obama administrations about building democracy in the Middle East? . . .

On domestic policy, the criticism is equally trenchant and deeply felt. Many voters believe that the U.S. establishment has produced a health-care system that is neither affordable nor universal. Higher education saddles students with increasing debt while leaving many graduates woefully unprepared for good jobs in the real world. The centrist establishment has amassed unprecedented deficits without keeping roads, bridges and pipes in good repair. It has weighed down cities and states with unmanageable levels of pension debt…

Mr. Trump’s supporters are not comparing him with an omniscient leader who always does the right thing, but with the establishment—including the bulk of the mainstream media—that largely backed a policy of engagement with China long after its pitfalls became clear. For Americans who lost their jobs to Chinese competition or who fear the possibility of a new cold war against an economically potent and technologically advanced power, Mr. Trump’s errors pale before those of the bipartisan American foreign-policy consensus…

…the U.S. establishment won’t prosper again until it comes to grip with a central political fact: Populism rises when establishment leadership fails. If conventional U.S. political leaders had been properly doing their jobs, Donald Trump would still be hosting a television show. (emphasis added)

To reinforce the point, Exhibit A, from the just-passed Senate coronavirus relief bill:

Kennedy Center

The legacy media portion of the establishment is no better, in their deranged hatred both for Trump and those in the country who prefer risking him rather than the proven failures of past leadership.  CBS screamed in a headline recently that a man died and his wife was seriously hurt after taking an anti-malarial drug (hydroxycloroquine) Trump and Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo have expressed optimism about as a possible treatment for COVID-19.  The problem?  What the Arizona couple actually did was notice their fish tank cleaner contained the chemical, and consumed it as a preventative measure, without consulting any medical expert.  Only two-thirds of the way through the story does it clarify the headline: “The difference between the fish tank cleaning additive that the couple took and the drug used to treat malaria is the way they are formulated.”  In other words, despite the headline, the couple didn’t take the drug.  They drank fish tank cleaner!  A factual headline, though, wouldn’t have been potentially damaging to Trump, which seems to be the primary goal of all mainstream journalism these days, facts and context be damned.

We’re supposed to be practicing social distancing.  But the elites in this country are (and have been for some time) so far out of touch with the common person’s daily experience that it shouldn’t be a surprise the latter has had more than enough of the former.

A pivotal pathogen?

COVID-19 is now the topic du jour across the planet.  Perhaps nothing exemplifies the interconnectivity of our world than a novel virus that appears in China, then spreads to every continent but Antarctica.  As such, it’s causing humanity to rethink a number of trends.  We may look back on this time as a pivotal one.

The reaction to the excesses of globalism had already begun with the election of Donald Trump, who appealed in 2016 to those most left behind by the paradigm.  For the first time since Ross Perot warned in 1992 of the “giant sucking sound” of industry that would be pulled out of America through the North American Free Trade Agreement and similar arrangements, a president openly questioned whether the status quo was truly beneficial to America.  Long-ignored trade deficits with potential rivals such as China came under scrutiny, as did the practice of obtaining essential goods through such sources.

Today’s coronavirus scare will accelerate that trend, regardless how mild or deadly the virus is in the end, because for the first time, the vulnerabilities inherent in globalism are easy to understand:

While many are rightfully concerned about stopping the virus, few are focused on the fact that the more it spreads, the more the U.S. ability to treat any Americans who are stricken is vulnerable to the tender mercies of the Chinese Communist Party because of a strategic shift in health care that occurred without debate or decision in Washington.

Everything from antibiotics to chemotherapy drugs, from antidepressants to Alzheimer’s medications to treatments for HIV/AIDS, are frequently produced by Chinese manufacturers. What’s more, the most effective breathing masks and the bulk of other personal protective equipment — key to containing the spread of coronavirus and protecting health care workers — and even the basic syringe are largely made in China. The basic building blocks of U.S. health care are now under Xi’s control.

The list doesn’t stop at medical commodities, either.  The Trump administration has recognized how dependent the U.S. had become on China as a source of rare earth minerals, a strategic category of raw materials upon which many modern devices depend.  The U.S. has deposits of such minerals, but largely lacks the capacity to mine and process them — after all, everything is done more cheaply in China, right?

We are beginning to realize the multifaceted hidden costs of offshoring — costs that were never publicly factored into the promotion of globalism.  Over time, the public has come to appreciate how many manufacturing jobs were lost — jobs that provided useful work and a “living wage.”  Most criticism of the emerging global economy has been predicated on that aspect.  But what was good for the corporate bottom line devastated families both in the U.S. (unemployment and despair as skills became irrelevant) and in China (sweatshop hours, bad working conditions and little pay).  In fact, one of the revelations of the current crisis is just how bad China’s industrial and urban pollution has become.  In short, it’s cheaper to make things in China because labor can be underpaid or even conscripted, there are no Occupational Safety and Health Administration-type standards to worry about, and none of the manufacturers there have to worry about mitigating pollution (at least, until it embarrasses the government).  Those tacky inflatable holiday lawn figures (sorry, personal pet peeve) and other assorted non-essential trinkets cost far more than what WalMart charged the consumer who purchased them.

Globalism isn’t the only paradigm that will be questioned in the weeks ahead. Ever since the dawn of the Industrial Age, work increasingly has been performed outside the home, concentrated first in factories and then offices.  This drove a reorganization of society.  Families spent more time apart, as fathers, then mothers, increasingly found their sustenance by working for others.  This led to children learning more from schools and other institutions than from growing and learning within a family economy.  People left the countryside for the cities to find work.  The rise of suburbia cemented the necessity of automobiles and led to the invention of the traffic jam as infrastructure failed to keep pace.  Only since the creation of the internet has there been a serious attempt to change this equation by finding ways to work from home.

While it isn’t practical for every type of work, telecommuting may be about to get a huge turbocharge:

In the past week, companies across the U.S. have started canceling major conferences, halting most business travel and urging employees to work from home in response to the growing viral outbreak in the country. Few will require telecom operations as vast and complicated as ICANN’s, but as companies such as Twitter and Microsoft start shifting to virtual work en masse, the vision of a decentralized work world long promised by telecommuting evangelists is starting to materialize.

Even if businesses intend for their policies to be a temporary response to COVID-19, once it’s discovered that desk-based workers can be productive — possibly more so — without being corralled into cubicles, the public may seriously question a return to the old ways, with its long commutes, office squabbles and occasional control freaks.

Higher education has been gravitating toward more online learning for some time now.  As a result, many universities and colleges are somewhat prepared to continue their activity remotely by scaling up what they’re already doing in some areas.  The same cannot be said of most public elementary and secondary schools.

What if this pandemic led to decentralization, more time with family instead of traffic, increasing interest in homeschooling options, a desire for national self-sufficiency and security, and a return of well-paying industrial jobs to the U.S.?  There is a possibility the blight of COVID-19 may contain the seeds of long-term benefits.  The city of Enterprise, Alabama, has a monument to the boll weevil, an insect that devastated the cotton economy of the southern U.S. in the early 1900s.  Despite the infestation, farmers were reluctant to abandon cotton, due to its profit and ability to grow on land few other cash crops could tolerate.

Enter the lowly peanut.  An Enterprise (and enterprising) man convinced some farmers to switch to peanuts, and those who did found their fortunes rising.  By 1919, as the boll weevil continued its destruction, the county around Enterprise, Alabama, was the largest producer of peanuts in the country, and shortly began to produce peanut oil.  Local farmers continued to diversify their crops, adding sugar cane, potatoes and others, and the area found renewed prosperity.  All because of necessity brought on by a bug.

What lasting changes will today’s “bug” bring?

Saturday Sounds

Today is the first day of the United Kingdom’s independence of the European Union.  One of the chief proponents of that reassertion of sovereignty gave a rousing farewell address to the European Parliament Wednesday:

Naturally, it was a largely hostile audience, and their reaction to the appearance of the Union Jack was telling. Apparently national flags are not allowed in these European Union venues — indeed, they reacted as one would expect a vampire to react to garlic or a crucifix. (An apt analogy, now that I think about it, given British complaints about how much funding they had to shovel towards Brussels as a member State.)

Also note at the end how Mairead McGuinness took Mr. Farage’s use of the word “hate” completely out of context.  Despite her assertion, Farage did not direct hate toward any people or nation.  Indeed, he noted that his fellows in the UK Independence Party and Brexit Party “love the European people.”  Instead, his hatred was directed at an institution he believes (with reason) antithetical to freedom and accountable governance.  It would be the equivalent of saying, in 1980, that one loves the Russian people, but hates the Soviet Union.  Given some of the symbolism the EU has chosen, hatred is not an unreasonable position towards the project.

It does my heart good to watch this speech.  Farage is a British patriot, and he took a well-deserved victory lap here.  He is also correct in noting the divide today is between globalism and nationalism (which he referred to as populism).  Our own choices in the United States are between those who believe in serving America’s interests and those who believe themselves “citizens of the world” with no particular desire to be responsive to the average American, whom they consider to be ignorant fools.

Here’s hoping that on Wednesday, November 4, 2020, America’s patriots are doing their own victory lap.

Tariffs and national self-interest

Patrick Buchanan provides a succinct summary of why Trump’s emphasis on tariffs in the relationship with China is hardly unprecedented.  In fact, one could say it’s a return to the policies that once made a young nation great:

A tariff may be described as a sales or consumption tax the consumer pays, but tariffs are also a discretionary and an optional tax. If you choose not to purchase Chinese goods and instead buy comparable goods made in other nations or the USA, then you do not pay the tariff.
China loses the sale. This is why Beijing, which runs $350 billion to $400 billion in annual trade surpluses at our expense is howling loudest. Should Donald Trump impose that 25% tariff on all $500 billion in Chinese exports to the USA, it would cripple China’s economy. Factories seeking assured access to the U.S. market would flee in panic from the Middle Kingdom.
Tariffs were the taxes that made America great. They were the taxes relied upon by the first and greatest of our early statesmen, before the coming of the globalists Woodrow Wilson and FDR.
Tariffs, to protect manufacturers and jobs, were the Republican Party’s path to power and prosperity in the 19th and 20th centuries, before the rise of the Rockefeller Eastern liberal establishment and its embrace of the British-bred heresy of unfettered free trade.
The Tariff Act of 1789 was enacted with the declared purpose, “the encouragement and protection of manufactures.” It was the second act passed by the first Congress led by Speaker James Madison. It was crafted by Alexander Hamilton and signed by President Washington.

As Buchanan mentions, tariffs were once an integral part of an economic policy that became known as “The American System” — a policy so successful that other nations emulated it.  It’s worth noting the Federal government undertook its first infrastructure projects with almost no other source of funding other than tariffs (land sales being the main exception).  I’ll admit: I’m not a fan of the Federal government doing public works projects.  But the limited revenue stream tariffs provided kept such activity modest in the early republic, and for the most part it’s easy to see the wisdom of such projects as lighthouses, postal routes and the Cumberland Road.

Still, public works projects were controversial, even then.  Many in the South believed tariffs disproportionally benefitted northern industrial interests through protectionism and infrastructure.  Tariffs sparked the Nullification Crisis in South Carolina, and was cited as one source of discontent as States left the Union after Lincoln’s election in 1860.  Sectionalism aside, the nature of tariffs as a voluntary tax that promotes national self-reliance and internal growth recommends it as one of the best ways to fund a limited government.  Certainly, the explosive growth of Uncle Sam after institution of the Income Tax is evidence of that.  I’ve said before that a national sales tax would be preferable to an income tax (provided it didn’t result in both being in effect).  Many of the same reasons apply to tariffs.

Buchanan rightfully points out that abandoning so-called “free trade” for a tariff system that enforces fair trade will be painful in the short term, much like a junkie getting over their addiction.  American wages have been stagnant in inflation-adjusted terms since the 1970s.  The only reason we appear to have a higher material standard of living is the influx of overseas goods that appear cheap on the price tag, but which in reality take a heavy toll on the nation in terms of lost industries, disappearing jobs and a growing economic dependency on outsiders.  That doesn’t even take into account that many of the reasons goods made in places such as China are ‘cheaper’ is that they lack protections for workers and the local environment — impacts we considered so important here that we willingly added them to the economic burden of production.  In short, “free trade” as it’s currently practiced is an apples-to-oranges comparison that hides or downplays the negative aspects of globalism.

The Enemy doesn’t get to define us

One thing about the Trump era: it’s caused a lot of people to confront the misplaced notion that Christians are supposed to be all about inoffensive sweetness and niceness, and only support politicians of that variety:

There are innumerable examples of people who are wonderful but unaccomplished just as there are many notable examples of people with serious personal failings who nonetheless have excelled in other parts of their lives: artists, scientists, parents, and even politicians.

And yes, I’m not so subtly making a point about President Trump. His private failings have been made very public prompting some Christian pundits to say that not only do those failings disqualify Trump from office, but they are so egregious as to make supporting him sinful for Christians.

It should be obvious that support for a political candidate does not mean a blanket endorsement of every aspect that candidate’s life. It is merely an endorsement of that person’s policies and an assessment of his ability to perform in office. What’s more, it’s often not even a blanket endorsement of that, it’s a practical decision that Candidate A, while imperfect, is preferable to Candidate B…

The question is, by what standard should a Christian judge a candidate or an officeholder? Part of the answer is that the Christian and non-Christian ought to judge in the same way: what can the candidate do to protect the peace and prosperity of the nation and its citizens? Christians would add that they require political leaders that will protect the right of the Church to worship freely and its members to practice their faith in peace.

If personal sin were disqualifying, who could lead? Christians in particular, for whom recognition of indwelling sin is both a predicate and a sustainer of faith, should know this. I suspect what the Frenches really want is a prophet, a priest, and a king to rule in this secular age, a political leader in which they can invest their highest hopes. But in doing so, they are placing upon liberal politics a weight it cannot hope to carry and are headed for disappointment.  The good news is, if they want a prophet, a priest, and a king, they already have one . . . in Christ.

As a presidential candidate in 2012, [Mitt Romney] was weak and ineffectual, letting Barack Obama walk all over him and run away with the race. But vote for him because he’s polite and he doesn’t curse!  Voters, many of them Christians, decided that the time for beautiful losers is over.

Exactly.  As I watch my country overrun by uninvited invaders, beset by hostile ideologies growing within and enemies gathering without, I am really not concerned with parlor games and political pleasantries anymore.  It’s no exaggeration to say our birthright freedoms are in a fight for their very survival.  In such a situation I’ll take a committed patriot with the manners of Genghis Khan over a manicured globalist who’s a disciple of Ann Landers; a Patton, not a Pope.

And as for Christianity requiring a milquetoast demeanor… our adversaries would have us forget that Our Lord’s example includes such pleasantries as flipping tables, driving people with whips, calling deceivers ‘vipers‘ and children of Satan, and calling down woe on feckless leaders more interested in themselves than in those they were called to lead.  Christ isn’t just the Lamb… He’s also the Lion of Judah.  “Not a tame lion,” either, as C.S. Lewis once pointed out.

So despite his many past moral failings, maybe… just maybe… Trump’s on to something here.  I’ll certainly never confuse him with Christ.  But Twitter aside, regarding the manner in which he is governing I’ll say he is more Christ-like than many of the false-faced Wormtongues who surround him in Mordor.  It’s amusing: the Left always screeches that Christian faith should never influence public policy.  But faced with Trump, who has committed the unpardonable sin of actually trying to govern as he campaigned, the Left — which recognizes no restraints of civility on its own quest for power — is more than willing to use a watered-down, denatured vision of the Christian walk to try to shame people out of supporting him.

I mean it literally when I say “to hell with that.”

This -n- That

There’s been a lot going on this week.  While I haven’t had time to write a long-form post till now, here are a few scattered thoughts on recent developments:

It’s interesting that for a couple days it looked as though Trump were going squishy on demanding funding for border security (the wall).  But as with many issues in this administration, it often seems the news coverage greatly exaggerates the death of the president’s resolve on key issues (and this may the media’s intent).  It says something that within 24 hours the talk went from Trump being stymied by his own party in the House, to Speaker Ryan very publicly bending to the administration’s wishes.  In short, Trump comes out of this with a stronger hand, not a weaker one, even if the Senate fails to follow through.

Meanwhile, in the tradition of Tocqueville’s observations about Americans self-organizing, “we the people” are making a stab at ‘doing the jobs our government won’t do,’ to appropriate a phrase.  In less than 4 days, a private fundraising effort for the wall has drawn nearly 200,000 donors and, as of this writing, over $12.1 million.  While this large sum is dwarfed by the estimated $5 billion to build the wall, the enthusiasm being shown may well have tipped the balance for the actions in the House yesterday.  There is, after all, more than one way for the citizens to make their point, if they are determined to do so.

The departure of Secretary of Defense James Mattis set many tongues wagging yesterday.  Mattis was a highly regarded Marine general and military intellectual, known as the ‘warrior monk’ before putting on the suit and taking over as SECDEF.  But as others have pointed out, having operational and tactical savvy doesn’t necessarily translate into strategic acumen.  Regardless, it appears his resignation was predicated on disagreeing with Trump’s intent to disengage from Syria and greatly reduce our footprint in Afghanistan.  If they fundamentally disagreed on these policies, the honorable thing was for him to resign, not to backbite the president from the official perch at the Pentagon.  So regardless whether Trump’s policy proves wise or not, I respect Mattis for his action.  I also respect Trump for following through on a campaign promise to stop policing the world.  Unless someone can articulate a very clear, rational vision of what staying in Afghanistan can achieve, it’s time to recognize 17 years of occupation is long enough.  Let Syria and Afghanistan figure out their own destinies, and let’s free America to do the same by extricating ourselves from all these nebulous multilateral commitments.

That includes immigration.  The United Nations lived up to its reputation as wanting to be a global proto-government by creating a “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.”  In other words, facilitating the mass movement of peoples into alien lands.  The United States was one of only five nations who refused to sign onto the compact, correctly noting it was an attempt to create international “soft law” that would infringe on our national sovereignty.  The other four refusals came from Israel, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic — all of whom have been under pressure for months due to their refusal to allow open passage across their borders.  Instead, they are putting the needs of their own citizens first… and what’s so immoral about that?

The real immorality today is the utter lack of accountability shown by the leaders of these various nations to the aspirations of their people and the requirements of the law. Whether it’s Theresa May slow-rolling the Brexit process, Emmanuel Macron trying to tax his people in the name of dubious “climate change” fearmongering or former FBI Director James Comey showing his utter disregard for legal protocols, the attitude is the same.  The main question today is how much longer will these globalist charlatans escape consequences for their actions.