Commentary: COVID-19 Proves America Needs Economic Nationalism

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by Spencer P. Morrison

 

Reports of a deadly new virus began trickling out of China in December. The infection spread rapidly. By March 12, the World Health Organization deemed COVID-19 a global pandemic. The next day President Trump declared COVID-19 a “national emergency” that would require the “full power of the federal government” to handle.

Many assumed this meant building temporary hospitals to care for COVID-19 patients. Others thought the government would provide local authorities with emergency medical supplies. Some imagined we would develop a vaccine.

Instead, the government shut down the economy and forced Americans to “social distance” – destroying more than 36 million jobs and at least $2 trillion in economic output – while it scrambled to buy basic medical equipment from China, of all places.

At the behest of academics, bankers, and “conservative” pundits like Ben Shapiro and Bill Kristol, America has offshored the bulk of its manufacturing industry to countries like China, Japan, and Mexico – countries that do not put America first. This has made America vulnerable to the biological, political, and economic contagions emanating from less developed parts of the world.

The American people will not be safe until we embrace the wisdom of tariffs – as did our Founding Fathers – and bring our factories back home.

If Ymir Were Hollow

In World War II, America produced the gauze, iodine, and syringes that allowed allied troops to soldier on in the face of bloodshed and broken bones. Times have changed. Today, America cannot produce the basic medical supplies it needs to fight COVID-19.

Alex Azar, the Health and Human Services secretary, told the House Appropriations Committee that America needs 25 times more masks than it currently has stockpiled.

Worse still, it turns out that America cannot even manufacture the masks it needs because most of the factories are in China. Evidently, it will take years for domestic mask-makers to fulfill the order placed by America’s Strategic National Stockpile. Until then we are at China’s mercy.

This problem is not limited to masks. America imports other basic supplies like syringes and latex gloves. Even more embarrassing is the fact that we are relying on hand-me-down ventilators, many of which were donated by China, to keep the sick alive. American lives are in Chinese hands.

Offshoring poses a massive health and security risk to the American people. Consider what would happen if China were to suffer another outbreak of COVID-19, and refused to export medical equipment. American physicians will be without masks. Patients without ventilators. People would die – all in the name of economic “efficiency.”

Suppose that China continued exporting masks in this scenario. Do you think they would sell them for cheap? Or will they price-gouge us like the despicable hucksters selling their toilet paper hoards in New York City? My money is on the latter.

Medical supplies are just the tip of this iceberg.

While it is no secret that America imports a large portion of its material wealth from foreign nations – particularly China – most shrug it off. After all, they say we import little more than “cheap plastic junk.” This could not be further from the truth.

In fact, America is a net importer of advanced technology products – computers, medical supplies, sophisticated machinery – upon which our civilization depends. Without imports, America quickly (if temporarily) would become a Third World nation populated by farmers and unemployed designers. A quick look at America’s trade profile with China makes this clear:

In 1986, more than 53 percent of our imports from China were articles of clothing or fabric. Additionally, about 20 percent of our imports were raw materials such as seafood, oil, and exotic fruits. Conversely, America exported technologically sophisticated products: 31 percent of our exports to China were machinery, 13 percent were electronic goods, and 11 percent were aircraft.

Given the above data, one reasonably could assume that the United States was the more advanced and prosperous economy. They would have been right.

Today, this situation is reversed. In 2016, garments and textiles constituted less than 15 percent of our imports from China. Raw materials, under 2 percent. Instead, electronics constituted 42 percent of our imports while machinery made up another 15 percent. Meanwhile, more than 25 percent of our exports to China were raw or lightly-refined materials like cereals, vegetable oils, and minerals.

Based on this more recent data, one could be forgiven for believing that China was a developed nation while America was an agrarian basket-case. If these trends continue then this indeed could be America’s future.

After all, how can we sustain our way of life when it is literally made in China? How can we build a future when we are busy buying it?

Denying China Leverage

On a more practical note, America’s dependence on China is a problem because it gives China tremendous political leverage over America. For example, if China wants to influence an American election, or nudge policy in a particular direction, it simply needs to disrupt the flow of trendy consumer goods, and the mainstream media will knuckle under.

For proof, skeptics need only recall the enormous influence that Saudi Arabia has wielded in American foreign policy over the last 50 years. All of this was due to the simple fact that the Saudis produced oil and America needed oil.

Today, China produces everything and America needs everything. China’s level of influence – if not control – will be proportional to its leverage.

This should chill the heart of every red-blooded American patriot.

Finally, imagine what would happen if America were to enter into a cold or – God forbid – hot war with China. What happens? Presumably, we will need to scale-up our industrial production to build more uniforms, missiles, ships, etc. There’s just one problem: scaling-up is not possible. Why?

In order to manufacture more weapons, America would first need to build more factories. America, however, imports almost all of its industrial components and machine tools. That is, we don’t even manufacture the things we need in order to manufacture more things.

America’s economy is unable to replicate its own complexity. It is sterile. It is dead.

Today, America is in danger because it cannot produce enough medical masks. Tomorrow, it may be in danger because it cannot produce enough computers, steel rebar, or aircraft engines. No one knows.

The only thing we know for certain is that the future is uncertain. The only way for America to be truly prepared for the unknown is for it to be economically independent – to produce enough of everything to survive a global shortage of anything. This can only be done by imposing tariffs and bringing the factories back home. If not, COVID-19 will be the least of our worries.

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Spencer P. Morrison is a writer and author of Bobbins, Not Gold. He is the editor-in-chief of the National Economics Editorial. Follow him on Twitter @SPMorrison_.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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