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Death of Manufacturing
by Patrick J. Buchanan, The American Conservative
20 August 2003Pat Buchanan

The rise of free trade has eroded America’s industrial base and with it our sovereignty.


After Mass at St. Mary’s, a retired FBI agent who had worked as a boy in the great steel plant in Weirton, W.Va., whose father had died in an accident at the mill, handed me the Weirton Daily Times. “Where Do We Go From Here?” read the May 20 banner. The front page was devoted to the bankruptcy filing of Weirton Steel, which had once employed 14,000 workers in a town of 23,000. Mark Glyptis, president of the Independent Steelworkers Union, said it didn’t have to happen. It was a poignant story. When I began my campaign of 2000 at the Weirton mill, Mark and his ISU endorsed me.

That same week, a friend e-mailed me. Timco, a lumber mill where we spent the last day of the New Hampshire campaign of 1996, had shut down. As Weirton Steel had been hammered by subsidized steel dumped in the U.S. market, Timco had to compete with subsidized lumber from Canada.

Across America the story is the same: steel and lumber mills going into bankruptcy; textile plants moving to the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and the Far East; auto plants closing and opening overseas; American mines being sealed and farms vanishing. Seven hundred thousand textile workers—many of them minorities and single women—have lost their jobs since NAFTA passed in 1993.

Thirty years have elapsed since our free-trade era began and 30 months since George W. Bush became president. It’s time to measure the promise of global free trade against the performance.

Undeniably, free trade has delivered for consumers. A trip to the mall, where the variety of suits, shoes, shirts, toys, gadgets, games, TVs, and appliances abounds, makes the case. But what has it cost our country?

Every month George Bush has been in office, America has lost manufacturing jobs. One in seven has vanished since his inauguration. In 1950, a third of our labor force was in manufacturing. Now, it is 12.5 percent. U.S. manufacturing is in a death spiral, and it is not a natural death. This is a homicide. Open-borders free trade is killing American manufacturing.

In 2002, we ran a trade deficit in goods of $484 billion. This May, it reached the level of $562 billion, nearly 6 percent of GDP. Evangelists of free trade tell us trade deficits do not matter. Michael Boskin, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under Bush I, declared, “It does not make any difference whether a country makes computer chips or potato chips.”

History teaches otherwise. In 1860, Britain abandoned its Britain First trade policy for the free-trade faith of David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, and Richard Cobden. By World War I, Britain, which produced twice what America did in 1860, produced less than half and had been surpassed by a Germany that did not even exist in 1860.

Free trade does to a nation what alcohol does to a man: saps him first of his vitality, then his energy, then his independence, then his life.

America today exhibits the symptoms of a nation passing into late middle age. We spend more than we earn. We consume more than we produce.

Why does it matter where our goods are produced? Because, as I wrote in The Great Betrayal:

Manufacturing is the key to national power. Not only does it pay more than service industries, the rates of productivity growth are higher and the potential of new industries arising is far greater. From radio came television, VCRs, and flat-panel screens. From adding machines came calculators and computers. From the electric typewriter came the word processors. Research and development follow manufacturing.


Alexander Hamilton, the architect of the U.S. economy, knew this. He had served in the Revolution as aide to Washington and lived through the British blockades. He had led the bayonet charge at Yorktown. And he had resolved that never again would his country’s survival depend upon French muskets or French ships.

As first Treasury Secretary, he delivered in 1791 the “Report on Manufactures,” one of America’s great state papers. Reflecting on how close his country had come to losing its liberty, Hamilton wrote,

Not only the wealth, but the independence and security of a country, appear to be materially connected with the prosperity of manufactures. Every nation … ought to endeavor to possess within itself all the essentials of a national supply. These comprise the means of subsistence, habitation, clothing and defense.


Under the Constitution he helped write, a national free-trade zone was created. Hamilton’s idea was to use tariffs to end our dependence on Europe and force British merchants to finance our government and the roads, harbors, and canals that would tie America together with commerce.

Tariffs would give our national government the revenue to operate, while providing our people both privileged access to the fastest growing market on earth and incentives to go into manufacturing. With American manufacturing thus encouraged, we would soon produce ourselves the guns and ships to defend the republic and the necessities of our national life so we could stand alone against the world.

For 12 decades, America followed Hamilton’s vision. On the eve of World War I, the 13 agricultural colonies on the eastern seaboard had become the richest nation on earth with the highest standard of living, a republic that produced 96 percent of all it consumed while exporting 8 percent of its GNP, an industrial colossus that manufactured more than Britain, France, and Germany combined.

The self-sufficiency and industrial power Hamiltonian policies created enabled us to rearm in security, crush the Axis in four years, rebuild Europe and Japan, and outlast the Soviet empire in a Cold War, while meeting all the needs of our people.

But in the Clinton-Bush free-trade era, Alexander Hamilton is derided as a “protectionist.” Woodrow Wilson’s free-trade dogma is gospel. Result: our trade surpluses have vanished, our deficits have exploded, our self-sufficiency has been lost, our sovereignty has been diminished, and an industrial base that was the envy of mankind has been gutted.

And for what? All that junk down at the mall? What do we have now that we did not have before we submitted to this cult of free trade?

The Loss of Independence

Consider the depths of our new dependency. Imports, 4 percent of GDP for the first 70 years of the 20th century, are near 15 percent now, and 30 percent of the manufactures we consume. Pat Choate, author of Agents of Influence, gives the following levels of U.S. dependency on foreign suppliers for critical goods:

  • Medicines and pharmaceuticals: 72 percent
  • Metalworking machinery: 51 percent
  • Engines and power equipment: 56 percent
  • Computer equipment: 70 percent
  • Communications equipment: 67 percent
  • Semiconductors and electronics: 64 percent

In July, the U.S. Business and Industrial Council reported that the Pentagon officials responsible for procuring U.S. weapons had joined with defense industries to oppose legislation requiring 65 percent U.S. content. U.S. missile defense and the Joint Strike Fighter would be imperiled if 65 percent of the components had to be made in the USA.

As Choate writes, Dell Computers of Austin has 4,500 suppliers. Its just-in-time supply line, which stretches across the Atlantic and Pacific, has an inventory of four days. A dock strike on either coast, and Dell begins to close down after 96 hours.

The Loss of Sovereignty

In the lame-duck session of Congress after the GOP triumph of 1994, Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich colluded with Clinton to bring us into a World Trade Organization where we are outvoted 15-1 by the European Union. In its most important ruling, the WTO has held that the foreign sales corporations of U.S. exporters like Microsoft and Boeing, set up to receive tax ben