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Is This Another Smoot-Hawley?

There are economists who say that NAFTA has caused the loss of countless jobs to the lower-cost environments in Mexico, and that these jobs will come back in a post-NAFTA trade environment. They argue that instead of doing nothing, the US should take every opportunity to raise all import tariffs, eliminate trade agreements, and close the borders to immigrants and trade. This, some say, will make America competitive, even though there is no gain in productivity or cost reduction in American manufacturing.

What they may be forgetting is that the US has gone down this pathway before with the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, which raised tariffs on about nine hundred products Historians blame Smoot-Hawley for triggering the Great Depression of the 1930s. They point out that Smoot-Hawley caused sharp increases in consumer prices, which led to consumers buying fewer products, which in turn led to low demand, lay-offs, high unemployment, and ultimately, the stock market crash.

For sure, NAFTA has its problems. The import/export paperwork required to track goods moving across the borders and the associated record-keeping can be onerous. Special rules for truckers from Mexico have taken a toll on American truckers, and the effects don’t end there. But overall, most economists think NAFTA has had a net positive effect on the US economy.

Trade Wars

Another concern is the likelihood of a trade war with Mexico and other countries. If tariffs are raised on imports to the United States, or if the proposed Border Adjustment Tax is imposed, our trading-partner countries are likely to raise tariffs on imports coming into their countries. Take fruits and vegetables for example. More than six billion pounds of fruits and vegetables were imported from Mexico in 2015-2016. Mexico provides 70% of fresh fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States. Corn and soybeans from American farms move the other direction into Mexico. If a tariff is placed on fruits and vegetables from Mexico, and Mexico retaliates with a tariff of their own, American consumers will suffer from higher prices, and American farmers will find it harder to compete for business in Mexico.

Mexico and the United States trade much more than food products. In fact, industrial products are the largest sector for imports from Mexico. Manufacturing operations vary from Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS), Contract Manufacturing (CMs), Original Equipment Manufacturing (OEMs), and Maquiladoras.

What’s Next?

A radical change to tariffs on Mexican imports and a renegotiation of NAFTA or outright withdrawal from the treaty could cause much turbulence in the US economy. It could disrupt cross-border supply chains and transform import and export patterns with Mexico. It is unlikely to improve heartland and rustbelt manufacturing jobs that Trump has promised his voters he would bring back. In fact, the United States and Mexico have such tightly interconnected economies that increased tariffs and trade barriers would likely end up causing more job losses all along the US-Mexico border.

And the turbulence doesn’t stop there. Americans will likely end up paying more for everything coming from Mexico or manufactured in higher-cost American factories.  Buckle your seatbelts.

 

I participated in the Women’s March on Washington last Saturday, January 21, 2017. I met my daughter and granddaughter from West Virginia and my grandniece from New Jersey, in Baltimore, the night before the march. This was an experience of a lifetime for all of us.

I left San Jose early Friday morning in route to Washington/Baltimore with a change of planes at DFW. As I was waiting to board at the gate at DFW, groups of women in pink hats started arriving and the mood and energy level changed. Aboard the plane to BWI, my entire row, the row across and the two rows behind me were people going to the Women’s March. Some women were accompanied by husbands, boyfriends and other men supporting the march. Many people (including men) were in pink knitted hats. Some people were giving out pink yarn bracelets. The excitement was mounting. People were energetic and chatty. Everyone had been to the Women’s March web site for information.

It used to be that demonstrations were spread by word of mouth. Take the Chinese students demonstration in Tiananmen Square in 1989, for example. A friend of mine was studying at Beijing University at the time. He heard from a friend who heard from a friend that students were gathering in the Square. There was no internet, cell phones or newspapers to encourage people to go. It was just people telling people. This is the way it was in the 60s and 70s, too. Just people telling people.

This time, word spread over the internet, on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and text messaging. The Women’s March had a web site established to sign up so they could get a head count and capture your information for future communications and donations.

Logos were designed and proliferated on banners, signs and t-shirts selling for upwards of $30 by some Chinese vendors. The buildup in the press and on-line was amazing and powerful.

On the morning of the march, we went to the BWI train station for the first MARC train to DC at 7am. I had purchased tickets the night before and thank goodness, because when we arrived at the train station, a little before 6am, there were already several hundred people waiting to buy tickets. We waited on the crowded platform, chatting with other groups from Florida, Texas, Kentucky and California. At 7am, the train came, but plowed right through the station without stopping. An announcer said that although there were only two stops before us, and there were five extra passenger cars on the train, the train was already full. He said that based on estimates, we would probably not get a train before noon. Disappointed, but not discouraged, we took an Uber into Washington instead, arriving in the city about 9am.

The Women’s March and Rally were supposed to start at 10am. It was quite obvious by 9am, that there were going to be way more people than had been anticipated. The official count was 500,000+ and several unofficial counts said 1.2 million. I’m going with a million – it certainly felt that way. There were people in pink hats everywhere, in every direction, on every street and in every driveway. People were sitting on ledges and leaning against buildings. We tried to move toward a jumbotron or the main platform but could not get anywhere close. We were shoulder to shoulder with no room to move in any direction.

At 10am the rally started, including speeches and performances from America Ferrara, Katie Perry, Madonna, Gloria Steinem, Amy Schumer, Alicia Keys, Michael Moore, Ashley Judd, Patricia Arquette, Gloria Allred, Angela Davis, Kamala Harris, Scarlett Johansson and others. We could hear, but could not see the speakers and performers.

After about two hours of speeches, the organizers announced that there were just too many people to march together and recommended the people in our area march forward down Independence Avenue, which we did. We were encouraged to leave our signs at the Trump Hotel or in front of the White House. It had been many hours since we left the hotel in the early morning, so we also waited in long lines for port-a-potties. We brought granola bars, nuts and water with us, thank goodness, because there was no way to get anywhere near to any restaurants.

We marched a couple of miles down Independence Ave. and toward the Capitol and chanted slogans with thousands of others. My favorite chant was “Show us what democracy looks like,” and the reply: “THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE.”

At about 4 pm, we headed to the Metro to try to at least get away from the city. Again, it was jammed and after a few trains passed through the station, we managed to squeeze into a Bethesda train. This reminded me of trains in Japan, where you get pushed together by train officials until they can close the doors. We were all smashed together.

Officials who had organized the marches later reported 673 marches had taken place worldwide, with marches occurring on all seven continents, including Antarctica. In Washington D.C. alone, the protests were reported to be the largest political demonstrations since the anti–Vietnam War protests in the 60’s and 70’s, with both protests drawing similar numbers. The Women’s March crowds were peaceful, and no arrests were made in Washington, D.C. I heard on the news on Saturday night that officials also said this was one of the cleanest events ever. Apparently women tend to clean up after themselves.

This was the kind of event you remember you entire life. I am so glad I could go with my family, especially my 12-year-old granddaughter. There were many lessons to learn about our democracy.