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Opinion: Why is the GOP terrified of tariffs?

From Lincoln to William McKinley to Theodore Roosevelt, and from Warren Harding through Calvin Coolidge, the Republican Party erected the most awesome manufacturing machine the world had ever seen.

And, as the party of high tariffs through those seven decades, the GOP was rewarded by becoming America’s Party.

Thirteen Republican presidents served from 1860 to 1930, and only two Democrats. And Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson were elected only because the Republicans had split.

Why, then, this terror of tariffs that grips the GOP?

Consider. On hearing that President Trump might impose tariffs on aluminum and steel, Sen. Lindsey Graham was beside himself: “Please reconsider,” he implored the president, “you’re making a huge mistake.”

Twenty-four hours earlier, Graham had confidently assured us that war with a nuclear-armed North Korea is “worth it.”

A steel tariff terrifies Graham. A new Korean war does not?

“Trade wars are not won, only lost,” warns Sen. Jeff Flake.

The U.S. relied on tariffs to convert from an agricultural economy in 1800 to the mightiest manufacturing power on earth by 1900.

Bismarck’s Germany, born in 1871, followed the U.S. example, and swept past free trade Britain before World War I.

Since Bush I, we have run $12 trillion in trade deficits, and, in the first decade in this century, we lost 55,000 factories and 6,000,000 manufacturing jobs.

Does Flake see no correlation between America’s decline, China’s rise, and the $4 trillion in trade surpluses Beijing has run up at the expense of his own country?

The hysteria that greeted Trump’s idea of a 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent tariff on aluminum suggest that restoring this nation’s economic independence is going to be a rocky road.

In 2017, the U.S. ran a trade deficit in goods of almost $800 billion, $375 billion of that with China, a trade surplus that easily covered Xi Jinping’s entire defense budget.

If we are to turn our $800 billion trade deficit in goods into an $800 billion surplus, and stop the looting of America’s industrial base and the gutting of our cities and towns, sacrifices will have to be made.

But if we are not up to it, we will lose our independence, as the countries of the EU have lost theirs.

Consider. Assume a Lexus cost $50,000 in the U.S., and a 20 percent tariff were imposed, raising the price to $60,000.

What would the Japanese producers of Lexus do?

They could accept the loss in sales in the world’s greatest market, the USA. They could cut their prices to hold their U.S. market share. Or they could shift production to the United States, building their cars here and keeping their market.

The principles behind a policy of economic nationalism, to turn our trade deficits, which subtract from GDP, into trade surpluses, which add to GDP, are these:

Production comes before consumption. Who consumes the apples is less important than who owns the orchard. We should depend more upon each other and less upon foreign lands.

We have a strategic asset no one else can match. We control access to the largest richest market on earth, the USA.

And just as states charge higher tuition on out-of state students at their top universities, we should charge a price of admission for foreign producers to get into America’s markets.

And — someone get a hold of Sen. Graham — it’s called a tariff.

Writes for Creators Syndicate.

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