Donald Trump has been wrong on trade for 30 years

tags: Trade, Trump, Trade War, Tariffs

Andrew C. McKevitt is associate professor of history at Louisiana Tech University and author of "Consuming Japan: Popular Culture and the Globalizing of 1980s America."

President Trump may have started a trade war in 2018, but he has been calling for one for at least 30 years.

Talking politics with Oprah Winfrey in 1988, Trump blamed an East Asian economic superpower for the United States’ problems. “They come over here, they sell their cars, their VCRs, they knock the hell out of our companies,” he said. “You can respect somebody who’s beating the hell out of you, but they are beating the hell out of this country.”

The “they” was not the economic boogeyman of the 21st century — China — but that of the 1980s: Japan, which had catapulted to the rank of the world’s second-largest economy mostly on the back of an aggressive export-oriented development strategy. In his characteristic style, Trump claimed that the Japanese were “ripping us off like no one has ever ripped us off before.” He then called Americans the “biggest suckers” and the “biggest dopes in the world” for buying so many Japanese goods while Japanese companies reaped enormous profits.

Trump’s solution? A 20 percent tariff on all Japanese imports, a policy that would have taxed hundreds of billions of dollars of goods produced in Japan.

“I’m not afraid of a trade war,” he boasted.

Although Trump never got his trade war in the 1980s, Japan’s rise to the status of an economic superpower, and its subsequent fall, offers lessons for the conflicts the president has provoked today. “Japan-bashers” such as Trump missed how the influx of Japanese commerce and culture was transforming social and economic life in the United States for the better, bringing jobs and goods that connected Americans to a rapidly globalizing world. Trump may have welcomed a trade war, but it would have threatened tens of thousands of American workers at new Japanese-owned manufacturing plants. With today’s heated rhetoric, we risk erasing those kinds of gains and throwing up barriers to future investment and progress. ...

Read entire article at The Washington Post

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