Bonner Day: A prosperous future for the valley

Bonner Day

People tell me about the time when many clothing manufacturers made the Shenandoah Valley home. There were jeans makers, dress makers and T-shirt makers providing good pay to hundreds of local residents.

Now there is a chance those jobs will be coming back.

I say a chance, for it is clear to a growing number of people that the free trade siren steered the country’s leaders to a shipwreck.

Galileo could not convince the establishment that the Earth moved. And our political and economic leaders first have to be convinced that their faith in free trade is disastrous for America.

Galileo was held in house arrest to the end of his life in 1642 in the establishment’s effort to keep the world ignorant of the fact that the Earth moved. That’s more than 138 years of officially condoned ignorance.

Similarly, economists have bowed before Adam Smith since the 1770s, bound to the faith that free trade was best for everyone. That’s 246 years of worshiping free trade.

While the free trade faith was growing, America’s leaders for many years supported protection of American industry. After the Revolutionary War, Americans wanted to catch up with the world in manufacturing. Under the shelter of tariffs, the bogey of free trade, America became a world leader in manufacturing. As a result, the nation grew to be the most powerful industrial country in the world.

This came in handy in World War II, when we became the arsenal of democracy.

But economists and intellectuals have pushed their faith in free trade with increasing success ever since. The result has been a series of trade agreements and a drain on U.S. manufacturing. Washington leaders closed their eyes while American manufacturing jobs went abroad.

In the past 80 years the country has been transformed while our leaders were mesmerized by the theory and religion of free trade.

The valley was a victim of this religion. The reasoning was that the high wages in the valley meant customers could only buy one shirt. But if the shirts were sewed overseas, four shirts could be bought with the same wages. Unfortunately, the wages also moved overseas.

The U.S. loses billions of dollars annually in trade, more than any other nation. England, France, Germany, South Korea and just about every other advanced country enjoys surpluses.

Why? Because other countries do not sign an agreement disadvantageous to them. France, with its inefficient wheat farmers, looks at American surpluses and says nothing doing, in French. Japan looks at our cheap beef and says no soap, or the Japanese language equivalent.

These countries read the same books on trade but they read them with patriotic spectacles. And now even the economists who write the free trade text books are rethinking the problem. The Economist Magazine reports voters across the West are demanding the establishment and reinforcement of borders (physical and economic) between countries. According to the Economist: “In Britain, the most globalist of all countries, people are attacking the Free Trade model as they see their manufacturing hollowed out.”

That is a ray of sunshine for the valley, which has been pushing development for years, with development offices opening for business in Shenandoah and Warren counties.

The fair traders have an advantage over Galileo: modern communications. The citizenry is quickly becoming educated to just how much America was flummoxed, and it will be supportive of trade agreements that protect American jobs.

As that happens, American manufacturers will be coming back to America and, hopefully, to the valley. America is one of the world’s largest markets. If other countries want to trade with America, they are going to have to let America have a fair share.

It is a wonderful bargaining position for our trade experts. But they can’t negotiate only with the aim of having friendly relations. Unfortunately, U.S. trade negotiators have more in common with the negotiators on the other side of the table than the beef and wheat farmers they represent.

The return of manufacturing to the valley will create high paying jobs. And the improved economy will mean better times for the valley. They can’t come too soon.

Bonner Day has been retired in the Valley for 14 years. He grows cattle and dandelions with mixed results.