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The founders were not free traders

Democrats want to punish businesses for moving overseas while the Republicans want to give those same businesses a red carpet for their trip there. Neither plan will help revive our ailing economy.

Most economists say we’ll never have an economy like we did 20 or 30 years ago. The horses have already left the barn. Those jobs are gone and are not coming back. The promise of high tech and green tech are chimeras. Ipods are made in China, and green tech companies, even those that are heavily subsidized by our taxes, are not creating jobs here. The heartland is slowly dying.

After our manufacturers left over the past three decades, we had the promise of service jobs. Those jobs left, and we then had the promise of information jobs; they’re gone, too. And there is no solution from either party as to just how to revive the economy. Tax breaks, while laudable, just won’t work to get our ailing economy off life support. Green jobs? Even with the billions in tax subsidies are still failing. We have no new industries creating jobs here, and tax breaks can not prevent the stampede of the few remaining jobs from getting outsourced. Americans instinctively know that free trade hurts jobs. A recent poll shows 69 percent of Americans oppose free trade agreements.

Are soaring trade deficits inevitable for the United States? Find out how to reverse the trend in “Trading Away Our Future: How to fix our Government-driven Trade Deficit and Faulty Tax System Before it’s too Late”

Last year author Ian Fletcher (“Free Trade Doesn’t Work”) began a new debate in conservative circles. Fletcher offers a stunning critique of free trade. Free trade has been a mantra for conservatives and to a lesser extent every president since FDR. Fletcher painstakingly analyzes and discusses, from every angle and argument, the debilitating effects of free trade on our growing trade debt, deficits, job losses and economic malaise. He traces our modern free-trade policies to an unlikely source, Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of state, Cordell Hull. These policies have continued with every successive president.

Fletcher successfully and persuasively connects the dots to show the side effects of free trade, asserting it is the culprit responsible for our economic decline as the world’s economic powerhouse. He makes an intellectually eloquent case for targeted tariffs. Free traders have argued that of course we will lose manufacturing to overseas cheap-labor nations, but we will grow in the intellectual professions. Fletcher counters, “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the U.S. lost over 54,000 engineer and architect jobs between 2000 and 2008.” Those jobs are getting outsourced, too. Shall we do nothing in response?

Conservatives are originalists when it comes to their understanding of the Constitution, carefully trying to understand the intent of the founders. However, and for whatever reason, no such scrutiny exists when it comes to the founders and the economy. Fletcher shows how the Founding Fathers were not free traders. He recounts how the second bill signed by President George Washington upon our founding was a bill establishing tariffs. Moreover, he describes that Alexander Hamilton, our first treasury secretary, was a fierce defender of “duties,” tariffs on imports. The nation’s primary source of revenue for 150 years since its founding was tariffs. Why have cheap imports compete with American companies, the founders reasoned. After all, they understood that we had the natural resources, the technology, the labor force and one of the largest consumer markets. Those basic conditions are essentially unchanged today.

We are shipping our natural resources overseas. We ship our lumber and buy it back as paper and furniture. According to Fletcher, we are becoming an economically dependent 19th-century colony to those industrial nations that have been both producing and buying our debt.

Conservatives advocate for a strong immigration policy that enforces existing laws and closes our borders to illegal aliens who both usurp our jobs and cost us dearly through their use of our social services. Fletcher argues that our trade imbalance is a far greater and serious economic cancer and that it is more insidious as it grows unnoticed, never even discussed. To Fletcher, our increasing foreign debt is a ticking time bomb. When will the creditors stop taking our IOUs? Then what? This is what our nation should be debating. Both sides of the aisle need to start thinking outside the box, and Fletcher’s work is a rallying cry for our nation to reconsider the original and successful economic policies of its founders.


Adam Sparks, the GOP congressional against Nancy Pelosi in 2010, is a San Francisco writer.