Let’s get this right out in the open: Donald Trump was the only potential Republican candidate for President who had even the slightest chance of beating Hillary Clinton and her Big Blue Media Machine. Without The Donald, the Republicans would have cheerfully kept on being the Washington Generals of American politics, the “loyal opposition” to a one-party State in which the interests of politicians, media elites, and the impossibly wealthy are all aligned to the mutual satisfaction of everybody with a net worth over ten million dollars and/or a severe distaste for traditional Western values. You might not want to believe this; like my brother Bark, you might continue to hold a flickering belief in a “traditional conservative platform” or in Chamberlain-esque appeasers like Marco Rubio. But it is true. The Republican party is effectively derelict, weakly supported for the moment by local gerrymandering and facing execution at the hands of seemingly unstoppable demographic change.
If you need a reminder of why modern conservatism is DOA, however, Kevin Williamson at the National Review will be happy to provide you just that, with the additional bonus of a head-in-hands-worthy lesson in how to become smitten by one’s own kindergarten-level logical fallacies.
The article is titled “‘Made in America.’ So What?” and as usual we’ll excerpt the relevant passages here. It begins with the usual generic swipe at the idea of “Made In USA” by pointing out the global nature of today’s supply chains. This is both logically and morally lazy at best. Yes, as Williamson points out, an “American” guitar may well have wood from a foreign country, minor components from China, or wiring from Mexico — but that in no way undermines the fact that the majority of the value added in, say, a Gibson Les Paul happens right here in the United States. When you drive by the Honda plant in Marysville, which stretches across the visible horizon and which has effectively raised many thousands of Ohioans out of poverty, it should be plain to even the most willfully moronic observer that the plant is real and the jobs it provides are real. Were the plant in Japan, or China, it would be equally real and the jobs it would provide would be equally real. They just wouldn’t be here.
This common-sense reality is Williamson’s next target:
One of the great enduring stupidities of modern economic life is the belief that buying American is somehow beneficial to the United States as a whole. A related daft notion, very popular among our progressive friends horrified at the chauvinism of “Buy American” campaigns, is that buying local helps your local community and economy. This stuff has been studied and studied and studied, and the short version is that buy-American/buy-local efforts amount to approximately squat. It makes sense if you think about it: You can buy a bag of green beans from your local farmers’ cooperative and feel good about yourself, but that farmer is going to use the money to pay his bills, probably to a faraway financial company that holds his mortgage, a carmaker overseas, or a tractor-financing company abroad. He might buy his diesel from a local retailer, but that diesel very likely comes from crude oil drilled in some faraway place (from Canada to the Middle East) and refined in another faraway place. The components that went into those green beans — seeds, fertilizer, farming equipment — probably weren’t locally made. Money likes to move around.
The paragraph about farming contains the “seeds” of its own destruction, if you like. Williamson’s imaginary farmer pays all sorts of bills to distant entities, true. However, if he is a competent farmer, he is retaining enough of his revenue to pay his own bills. If you buy those beans from a farmer in China, then that farmer is going to be able to pay his bills and his mortgage. If everybody buys beans from the American farmer, then the American farmer has a job. If everybody buys beans from the Chinese farmer, then the Chinese farmer has a job. Period, point blank. This is not difficult to understand.
Mr. Williamson would have you believe that it doesn’t matter if that American farmer has a job because “money likes to move around”. But he fails to consider the fact that the farmer also has a choice about where he spends his money. If everybody buys beans from the American farmer, and all the American farmers buy farm equipment from the American farm-equipment manufacturer, then the money may be “moving around” but it is not moving too far. Again, this is apparent to anybody who gives any thought to it whatsoever. No amount of economics textbooks can make the Honda plant in Marysville disappear, nor can they paper over the fact that a guitar made in China creates jobs in China while a guitar made in America creates jobs in America.
To be fair, however, most economics textbooks do not make that argument. Instead, they make a claim that lowered prices from overseas production confer more of a benefit than local jobs making local products. In the economists-textbook scenario, if everybody in a mill town loses their jobs but the price of socks drops by fifty cents, then that’s a good thing because the fifty-cent benefit for an entire nation outweighs the five thousand jobs lost in Pennsylvania. It’s possible that the economists are right about this.
The only problem is that, as I’ve shown before on this blog, overseas production no longer does much to lower consumer prices. The additional profits are being funneled straight to the so-called one-percent through “FIRE” entities. The most stereotypical example of this: A factory in the USA employs a thousand people. Somebody does a leveraged buyout on that factory’s parent company. The factory is closed. The work is sent to China. The additional profit is used to pay the debt service incurred during the leveraged buyout. Every single penny of value “created” in that transaction goes straight to the investor class. This business model, by the way, was how ol’ Mittens got rich enough to afford his turn as the Washington Generals of American politics, via his employer Bain Capital.
Insofar as Mr. Williamson was hired to argue on behalf of the investor class, you can see how he would consider offshoring and leveraging to be economically sound and morally defensible. That does not mean that ordinary Americans should share those sentiments. Killing thousands of jobs to add $100 million to a venture capitalist’s net worth might balance the books in an economic textbook but in the real world it’s a recipe for disaster.
Perhaps that explains why Williamson takes a highly illogical next step in trying to argue for the outsourcing and elimination of American jobs:
There is a word for making a national economy policy out of “buy local” or “buy national,” and that word is “autarky.” Autarky is what happens when a country tries to produce everything it uses and use everything it produces. There are a few countries organized around something like that principle, and they are desperately poor: North Korea is the leading example, though a little bit of autarkical policy helped to reduce Venezuela from one of the wealthiest countries in the Western Hemisphere to one of the poorest, a country so far up that infamous creek that it cannot even manage to produce toilet paper in sufficient quantities. Autarky and socialism tend to go hand-in-hand, for reasons that are pretty obvious: Both are attempts to put economic exchange and production under political discipline. The results of each are predictable and similar: misery.
This ism, of course, the old reductio ad absurdum argument: “Any attempt to bring jobs back to American soil is EXACTLY LIKE NORTH KOREA! Or maybe it’s like VENEZUELA, WHERE THEY STARVE!” It’s embarrassing for all parties involved that the National Review even permits Williamson to make this argument on its website. Nobody — not Trump, not Gibson’s management, not the nuttiest of Oathkeeper dudes, not even your humble author — is in any way suggesting that the United States adopt an autarkical policy of any sort. This sort of argument is typically restricted to teenagers on the Internet or the editors of left-wing websites, who solemnly assured us that a ban on partial-birth abortions would instantly bring the world of The Handmaid’s Tale into being or that the passage of concealed-carry laws would turn the streets of America into the Wild West. Conservatives are supposed to be the grown-ups in a discussion, not the hysterical children.
Again, however, Williamson knows his point is weak, because he uses North Korea and Venezuela as examples rather than, say, Japan or China. Both Japan and China place significant restrictions on what they will permit into the country. Some of these barriers are legal, some are societal, some are cultural, but all of them are far more effective than the weak tariffs we have on goods entering the United States. The Chinese, in particular, have proven to be far smarter than our conservative brain trust here in America. Instead of offering up airy theories about the movement of money or the freedom of commerce, they’ve focused on creating jobs, ramping up manufacturing capacity, and taking vicious advantage of every potential trade imbalance out there. That’s how China went from a “sleeping giant” to the country that created, and can likely enforce, the infamous “nine-dash line”. That’s why the United States military has to seriously worry about the idea that China has backdoored military equipment.
Mr. Williamson may not like it, but manufacturing is power. Employment is power. A fully-utilized workforce is a powerful national tool in every possible sense of the world. This may not always be the case, of course. It’s impossible to know what will happen when most of the labor in first world countries is completely automated. In the short term, however, jobs are critical to a nation’s standing in the global community.
I doubt that the crowd at the National Review cares very much for the idea of a fully-employed proletariat. As is often said, politics tends to form a circle at the ends. Neither the socialist left nor the self-righteous right much care for the idea of a middle class that owns houses and jetskis and has freedom to do whatever it wants. Both are complicit in what even the non-paranoid among us can increasingly see as a scheme to replace the native citizenry of Western democracies with low-wage, low-education, politically naive immigrants. And it explains why Mr. Williamson is unwilling to lay the blame for North Korea and Venezuela’s failures where it belongs: on single-party aristocracies that rely on a powerless, permanently confused underclass to maintain power. It would hit just a bit too close to home, you see.
Regardless of the position of the National Review and its editors, here at Riverside Green we will continue to advocate for American manufacturing in all its forms, from shoes to watches to hi-fi equipment. (And trucks, although my Silverado is unfortunately a “3” VIN vehicle.) Local manufacturing makes a difference. Local purchases make a difference. Put your hand out to your neighbor and help him up. Not with a condescending handout, but with patronage for his goods and services. If we all did that, then we wouldn’t need help from the Republicans or the Democrats. Bad for Kevin Williamson, but good for America.