On April 14, 1789, George Washington was walking through the fields of Mount Vernon, his Virginia home, when Charles Thomson, the secretary of the Continental Congress, rode up on horseback, to deliver Washington a letter, telling him that he had been elected president of the United States by the newly created United States Senate.
While this was great news for Washington, it presented two problems for him.
The first was that he had to say goodbye to his ailing mother before setting off for the presidential inauguration in New York City. His mother died before Washington was able to return from the inauguration.
The second problem Washington faced was trying to find a suit of clothes he could wear for the swearing-in ceremony that were made in America.
When Washington became president in 1789, the majority of America’s industrial and personal products were manufactured in England. One of the ways that England kept the American colonies under their thumb was by outlawing American manufacturing of most high-quality goods, including fine clothing.
Instead, in the years prior to the American Revolution, the British East India Company, the world’s largest transnational corporation, controlled the production and transportation of a variety of goods, including fine clothing.
While cotton and wool could be grown and sheared in the States, those raw materials, by law, had to be sent to England to be made into clothing.
So George Washington sent his trusted friend and former Revolutionary War general Henry Knox to find a 100 percent made-in-America suit that he could wear for his inauguration.
There was only one man in the entire country who’d been defying Britain and bootlegging fine men’s garments.
Knox rode his horse to Hartford, Connecticut, where that one taylor, Daniel Hinsdale, was now, after the Revolutionary War, publicly making high-quality all-American suits and dresses.
Washington understood that manufacturing had to be at the core of our economy if America was to prosper, which was why he went to such trouble to wear a suit for his swearing-in that was made in America.
Thus, new President Washington asked his Treasury Secretary to look into ways to boost American manufacturing. Two years later, in 1791, Hamilton presented his 11 point plan to build American manufacturing to Congress.
By 1793, most of Hamilton’s points had been made into law by Congress or turned into policy by either President Washington or the states.
Hamilton’s proposals, which included tariffs on imported goods and subsidies to jump-start new industries, laid the groundwork for making America the greatest industrial powerhouse the world had ever seen.
For more than 200 years, we led the world in manufacturing.
Being able to walk into a store, big or small, and “buy America” wasn’t just an ideal – it was reality in the United States.
But, that all changed in a big way starting in the Regan years, and that change continues to this day.
We signed on to a series of so-called “free trade” agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA, and signed the GATT agreements that created the WTO.
The result of these so-called free trade deals was that fewer and fewer American-made goods filled our stores. In just the years since the Supreme Court put George W. Bush into the White House, we’ve lost over 60,000 factories in America. As Mitt Romney was running for President, his company, Bain, was dismantling a factory in Illinois and shipping it over to China.
And to compound this insanity, right now the Obama administration is in “secret” talks to draft a “Trans-Pacific Partnership,” another so-called free trade deal that will further damage manufacturing and jobs in America.
But, where the United States is failing at keeping jobs and manufacturing ashore, other countries are succeeding.
Last week, the European Commission of the European Union agreed to impose punitive import duties on solar panels from China, a move made to protect EU nations from dumping cheap Chinese solar panels in Europe.
The duties on solar panels from China will kick in by June 6th, and will certainly make Chinese solar panels less attractive to EU buyers.
After the move was announced, the Chinese ambassador to the World Trade Organization immediately denounced it, arguing that it was a mistake and that, “it will send the wrong message to the world that protectionism is coming.”
But what’s wrong with bringing protectionism back? What’s wrong with protecting jobs and manufacturing domestically?
Right now, everybody in Washington is hysterical over the budget deficit, but the fact of the matter is that the budget deficit is nowhere near as big or as dangerous to America as is our trade deficit.
For decades, our trade deficit has been just under a trillion dollars a year. Just this year, as of March, the US trade deficit was $38.8 billion.
Because we’re not “protecting” our economy (and other countries are, with both tariffs and VAT taxes that they reverse on export), it’s nearly impossible to find and buy American-made goods in US stores.
It’s been 200-plus years since Washington went out of his way to find an American-made suit for his Inauguration, and Alexander Hamilton told us how to become an economically strong nation. It worked, and we led the world for nearly two centuries.
But in the 33 years since Reagan took power, we’ve gone from manufacturing being over a third of our economy to it being about a tenth, putting our nation back into the bondage we were once in to the British East India Company.
We need to revisit Alexander Hamilton’s plan that made America into the most powerful manufacturing economy in the world for over 200 years.
It’s time to return to tariff-based trade policies that protect jobs and manufacturing in the United States.
We need a new manufacturing revolution, 100 percent made in America. Bring back tariffs and get us out of these so-called Trade Agreements.