Trump's protectionism

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anonymous_coward
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Trump's protectionism

https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-wont-quickly-announce-new-tariffs-on-...

Thoughts?

I am pretty much universally opposed to protectionism, unless in the case of national security (farm subsidies, for example).

This is not really news, since he's put up the protectionist stance from the beginning (unlike his sudden reversal on gun control, which was polar opposite to what his stance was, say, a few weeks ago).

knucklehead
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It could be argued that many

It could be argued that many other things besides food production need protection in the interest of national security. Energy production and the means by which to achieve that, energy conversion and transmission and the means by which to achieve that, and transportation and the things that support that are a few that spring to mind. If you think about it that pretty much encompasses everything...steel, aluminum, wood, oil, gas, rocks, paper, scissors.

Ugenetoo
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WW2 was won by our ability to

WW2 was won by our ability to manufacture, power, and deliver the tools of war.
If that conflict were to happen today, with our manufacturing base in shambles, we'd all be speaking German.
Steel is the basic building block for all other industries.
One third of my production cost are for steel.
If there is a 15% tariff added to those costs, that means my costs will go up 5%.
I can live with that.

JackStrawFromWichita
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"One third of my production

"One third of my production cost are for steel.
If there is a 15% tariff added to those costs, that means my costs will go up 5%
."

You're making an assumption that domestic producers won't take this as an opportunity to raise their prices too. I don't think that's the case.

Economike
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Trade and tariffs have been

Trade and tariffs have been discussed ad nauseam on AMG.

By now, I'm sure that everyone understands that protectionism is rooted in economic ignorance.

Economike
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If there is a 15% tariff

If there is a 15% tariff added to those costs, that means my costs will go up 5%.
I can live with that.

That's nice of you. Are you as willing to force all U.S. consumers to pay 5% more for stuff?

Tom C
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This tries to unscrew the

This tries to unscrew the historic Clinton sell-out of American labor - by opening the door to China trade, it could be argued that Bill Clinton just about single-handedly created the Rust Belt. Why the labor union leaders chose to sell out their membership to the Democrat party under those conditions is one of the biggest examples of corruption of all time.

Meanwhile, American consumers ratified the sell-out of the American labor force and manufacturing base in exchange for boatloads of cheap Chinese crap, electronics and household goods. "Buy American" is a virtue-signaling catch-phrase, not an actual economic force. There is negligible micro-economic effect.

Yes, with these proposed tariffs, consumers will pay more, that will be inevitable. But, in exchange, many US industries involved with producing raw material will have a great boon. Many, if not millions, of good-paying jobs will be created.

Right now we are seeing good employment, and over the last few years, solid wage growth. Americans, for the most part, can afford to pay the higher prices.

Finally, from a moral standpoint, I don't like the macro-economic incentives of subsidizing our national lifestyle with products produced by slave labor. Who, now, would argue FOR American slavery of the nineteenth century by pointing to the cheap goods that were produced?

So, why would anyone do that now?

Ugenetoo
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Strawman

Strawman
Of course domestic production will increase prices.
Why wouldn't they.

Economike said
That's nice of you. Are you as willing to force all U.S. consumers to pay 5% more for stuff?

Yup.

mainemom
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What I'm not smart enough to

What I'm not smart enough to know: At what point does the industrial policy of a foreign government turn international trade into a weapon to undermine the industrial base of a rival state? Do all the economic principles regarding trade among nations assume away the intentionally malign strategies of foreign governments?

Secretary Ross Releases Steel and Aluminum 232 Reports in Coordination with White House

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, February 16, 2018
Office of Public Affairs

(202) 482-4883
publicaffairs@doc.gov
Today, Secretary Wilbur Ross released reports on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s investigations into the impact on our national security from imports of steel mill products and from imports of wrought and unwrought aluminum. These investigations were carried out under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, as amended. All classified and business confidential information in the reports was redacted before the release.

“I am glad that we were able to provide this analysis and these recommendations to the President,” said Secretary Ross. “I look forward to his decision on any potential course of action.”

The Department of Commerce found that the quantities and circumstances of steel and aluminum imports “threaten to impair the national security,” as defined by Section 232.

The reports are currently under consideration by the President, and no final decisions have been made with regard to their contents. The President may take a range of actions, or no action, based on the analysis and recommendations provided in the reports. Action could include making modifications to the courses of action proposed, such as adjusting percentages.

The President is required to make a decision on the steel recommendations by April 11, 2018, and on the aluminum recommendations by April 19, 2018.

Key Findings of the Steel Report:

The United States is the world’s largest importer of steel. Our imports are nearly four times our exports.
Six basic oxygen furnaces and four electric furnaces have closed since 2000 and employment has dropped by 35% since 1998.
World steelmaking capacity is 2.4 billion metric tons, up 127% from 2000, while steel demand grew at a slower rate.
The recent global excess capacity is 700 million tons, almost 7 times the annual total of U.S. steel consumption. China is by far the largest producer and exporter of steel, and the largest source of excess steel capacity. Their excess capacity alone exceeds the total U.S. steel-making capacity.
On an average month, China produces nearly as much steel as the U.S. does in a year. For certain types of steel, such as for electrical transformers, only one U.S. producer remains.
As of February 15, 2018, the U.S. had 169 antidumping and countervailing duty orders in place on steel, of which 29 are against China, and there are 25 ongoing investigations.
Recommendations of the Steel Report:

Secretary Ross has recommended to the President that he consider the following alternative remedies to address the problem of steel imports:

A global tariff of at least 24% on all steel imports from all countries, or
A tariff of at least 53% on all steel imports from 12 countries (Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam) with a quota by product on steel imports from all other countries equal to 100% of their 2017 exports to the United States, or
A quota on all steel products from all countries equal to 63% of each country’s 2017 exports to the United States.
Each of these remedies is intended to increase domestic steel production from its present 73% of capacity to approximately an 80% operating rate, the minimum rate needed for the long-term viability of the industry. Each remedy applies measures to all countries and all steel products to prevent circumvention.

The tariffs and quotas would be in addition to any duties already in place. The report recommends that a process be put in place to allow the Secretary to grant requests from U.S. companies to exclude specific products if the U.S. lacks sufficient domestic capacity or for national security considerations. Any exclusions granted could result in changed tariffs or quotas for the remaining products to maintain the overall effect.

Click HERE to view the Steel Report with classified and business confidential information redacted.

Key Findings of the Aluminum Report:

Aluminum imports have risen to 90% of total demand for primary aluminum, up from 66% in 2012.
From 2013 to 2016 aluminum industry employment fell by 58%, 6 smelters shut down, and only two of the remaining 5 smelters are operating at capacity, even though demand has grown considerably.
At today’s reduced military spending, military consumption of aluminum is a small percentage of total consumption and therefore is insufficient by itself to preserve the viability of the smelters. For example, there is only one remaining U.S. producer of the high-quality aluminum alloy needed for military aerospace. Infrastructure, which is necessary for our economic security, is a major use of aluminum.
The Commerce Department has recently brought trade cases to try to address the dumping of aluminum. As of February 15, 2018, the U.S. had two antidumping and countervailing duty orders in place on aluminum, both against China, and there are four ongoing investigations against China.
Recommendations of the Aluminum Report:

Secretary Ross has recommended to President Trump three alternative remedies for dealing with the excessive imports of aluminum. These would cover both aluminum ingots and a wide variety of aluminum products.

A tariff of at least 7.7% on all aluminum exports from all countries, or
A tariff of 23.6% on all products from China, Hong Kong, Russia, Venezuela and Vietnam. All the other countries would be subject to quotas equal to 100% of their 2017 exports to the United States, or
A quota on all imports from all countries equal to a maximum of 86.7% of their 2017 exports to the United States.
Each of the three proposals is intended to raise production of aluminum from the present 48% average capacity to 80%, a level that would provide the industry with long-term viability. Each remedy applies measures to all countries and all steel products to prevent circumvention.

The tariffs and quotas would be in addition to any duties already in place. The report recommends that a process be put in place to allow the Secretary to grant requests from U.S. companies to exclude specific products if the U.S. lacks sufficient domestic capacity or for national security considerations. Any exclusions granted could result in changed tariffs or quotas for the remaining products to maintain the overall effect.

Economike
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Since we seem to agree that

Since we seem to agree that protectionist tariffs force American citizens to pay more for consumer goods, are we agreed this is equivalent to reducing their standard-of-living?

Tom C
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Absolutely not.

Absolutely not.

If good jobs are created, many new jobs, and higher average wages, then how can you conclude that merely rising prices must result in a reduced standard of living?

Secondly, there may be an effect on the average QUALITY of goods produced. That, also would contribute to an increase in the standard of living. Many American-made goods are superior in quality to Chinese cr@p. (And so much of the cheap Chinese stuff packing the local Wal-Mart to the rafters is absolute cr@p. )

Secondly, the statement itself is absurd. A gallon of milk costs 13 cents in 1900. In 2017 the average price was $3.13. Who would say we have experienced, on average, a decline in the standard of living since then?

Yes, there are many factors that work into price, and many effects of price on other aspects of the economy. But to look merely at price is naïve.

Economike
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mainemom -

mainemom -

In response, here are four related questions:

Can anyone cite an example of an "intentionally malign strategy of a foreign government" to undermine another nation's industrial base?

If so, did this strategy succeed?

Did it improve the welfare of the foreign country?

And, did this strategy actually harm the other nation?

Before we start fantasizing about industrial policies leading to strategic results, we need to determine whether industrial policies can lead to any intended results at all. I can cite several examples of national industrial policies, but I can think of none that improved a nation's welfare.

mainemom
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Since we seem to agree that

Since we seem to agree that protectionist tariffs force American citizens to pay more for consumer goods, are we agreed this is equivalent to reducing their standard-of-living?

The quick answer is yes.
The more thoughtful answer begs more time to draw a conclusion, based on answers to my questions above.

Does China have a strategy to undermine our industrial base, setting aside all comparative advantage considerations (which assume mutual benefit and at least neutral intentions)? What would that look like?

Alternatively, does our industrial base depend on cheap steel and aluminum?
Can our manufacturers compete if cheap steel and aluminum are not available to them?

Edit: posted before I read Economike response.
I recall when we bankrupted the USSR by carrying on an arms race.

I'm thinking our manufacturers can't compete globally without cheap steel and aluminum.
I'm thinking China knows that.
I think they're probably dumping as the Commerce report concludes.
But I don't think a tariff will help our economy.

Economike
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Tom C.-

Tom C.-

Of course, if tariffs lead to new good jobs, and average higher wages, then obviously higher tariffs won't harm our standard-of-living.

But, problem is, protective tariffs can't raise average wages. You can't raise aggregate costs by fiat and expect additional income to fall from the sky.

Regarding the price of milk, yes, looking merely at price is naive. You do understand the difference between nominal prices and real (adjusted for inflation) prices, don't you?

It might be helpful for everyone in thinking about trade to understand that trade is fundamentally an exchange of goods and services. Prices are merely units of account.

Economike
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As usual, we agree, mainemom.

As usual, we agree, mainemom.

It's possible that the Chinese government has (or had) an export-driven industrial policy. And, perhaps, possibly to undermine U.S. heavy industry. But, what then? Were the Chinese helped? Was the U.S. harmed? I know that many reading this will say"Of course! Cheap! Chinese!" None of this, beginning with the putative industrial policy, is evident.

It occurs to me the Soviet Union's industrial policy (Stalin loved steel!) contributed mightily to its bankruptcy. Industrial policies render nations uncompetitive.

And, yes, I also think a tariff won't help our economy.

mainemom
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Here's a factoid about those

Here's a factoid about those jobs, via Scott Sumner at Econlog::

Here are some job totals:

Steel industry (2016) = 87,000
Manufacturing employment = 12,555,000

Steel tariffs boost jobs in steel and lower employment in other manufacturing industries.

Tom C
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Regarding the price of milk,

Regarding the price of milk, yes, looking merely at price is naive. You do understand the difference between nominal prices and real (adjusted for inflation) prices, don't you?

Of course I understand it. But price is part of a larger economic picture. By raising a price somewhere, you may raise income somewhere else. It may or may not be a zero-sum game, but you need to assess the effects on all aspects of the economy, and the effect on classes and sub-groups within the economy.

If Joe Blow loses a $75,000 a year factory job so that someone somewhere can pay less for a car, what has happened to Joe Blow's standard of living? If Mary Smith loses a $15 an hour job in a local shoe maker so people can buy cr@ppy Chinese-made shoes that fall apart in 3 months, is there really an overall increase in the standard of living?

But, problem is, protective tariffs can't raise average wages.

If they create high-paying jobs, then they most certainly do. Is trading off good jobs and strong businesses for cheap Chinese cr@p that is going to break as soon as possible, a good strategy for an long-term increase in the standard of living?

When money is being sucked out of the economy at the rate of billions of dollars a year and going into China's coffers, and the US prints money like it's going out of style to keep the economy going, are these factors that contribute to a long-term increase in the standard of living? (I actually don't think that a trade deficit is a bad thing, when you look at it overall, and when you look at the historical effects of trade deficits, but we'll do fine without it, and we'll do better keeping the money in the US economy.)

Also, don't forget - tariffs, themselves, generate revenue, to boot. Every $1000 increase in product cost (that is passed through the value-added chain) goes right into the general fund from those same tariffs collected, which can lower the deficit, increase spending or lower taxes - dollar for dollar. For the US, as a whole, there is no "additional cost". It's not just the economic effect of the materials cost itself, that balances out.

Cheap foreign competition wiped out the US manufacturing industry - who can disagree with that? All we're doing is looking to reverse that trend to some extent - and the benefits within the economy, by supporting, encouraging and building primary manufacturing in the US, and for US workers, can be huge.

Tom C
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Can anyone cite an example of

Can anyone cite an example of an "intentionally malign strategy of a foreign government" to undermine another nation's industrial base?

Yes, the US strategy to choke the Soviet Union economy during the arms race. It both: (1) was successful, and (2) benefited the United States.

Economike
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About average wages:

About average wages:

You're almost there, Tom C., in considering the net consequence of one person's lost job and and another's gain from reduced costs. To find whether more trade raises or lowers average wages, we need to sum up these effects.

When individuals trade voluntarily with each other, all parties gain. Each one leaves the market with something of greater value than he brought. This is obvious, right? No one chooses to trade to his disadvantage. This principle of gains from trade applies to any expansion of the market. When a market expands, some traders may no longer be able to compete, but the net result must be that average income rises. There are winners and losers in voluntary international trade, but gains exceed losses. This is not a zero-sum game.

It follows that when U.S. citizens are not prevented from trading with foreigners, the trades they choose to make will increase their incomes to a greater extent than other citizens might lose. This is injurious to the losers, but the long-term effect is that the extra income supports new businesses and jobs.

The premise of those who claim protective tariffs can raise average incomes is that government can force citizens to become more prosperous by requiring them to make lesser-valued choices they otherwise wouldn't make. In an economic sense, this is the belief that costlier inputs can lead to greater output. In a political sense, it is the belief that Big Government can make better choices for citizens than they can make for themselves.

In the current case of President Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs, it turns out that Americans purchase these commodities from Canada and Brazil. Unless one believes that these countries are out to beggar the American economy, this fact makes the theory that someone's industrial policy is harming our economy ridiculous. Unless, of course, we're looking at our own misguided attempts at industrial policy.

Tom C
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When individuals trade

When individuals trade voluntarily with each other, all parties gain. Each one leaves the market with something of greater value than he brought. This is obvious, right? No one chooses to trade to his disadvantage.

In a real free market system that might be true. However, when you add unfair advantages and disadvantages - for example excessive regulation on one side, and slave labor on the other side, the only way to "fairness" would be to eliminate those advantages and disadvantage - for example, forbid slave labors, and/or reduce regulation (including things like minimum wage, requirement for workers' comp and other insurance, and other taxes and regulations that add to costs,) so that each side is competing fairly... well, then the market might be able to balance itself out.

However, if you are not able to address those advantages and disadvantages, then a tariff is one method to restore fairness and balance to the trade.

To put another way: I don't think, from a moral standpoint, "market equilibrium" should require bringing American workers' wages to the level of slave labor in China or Brazil. And, as Americans, there is nothing wrong with protecting our jobs, workers and industry.

The big picture is: Opening up international trade costs us millions of jobs, hurt pay for workers in those sectors, and decimated industries. While arguments for continuing that destructive practice abound (and are lustily espoused by the handful of world industrialists who are pocketing billions - and stuffing millions into the pockets of politicians,) the actual result on working Americans has been grim. Looking at the big picture, the petty rationalizations pale.

While I don't think we can undo it, reversing it to a large extent will be a good thing.

Economike
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Tom C. -

Tom C. -

Trade doesn't require symmetry. It's not "unfair" when citizens of a rich country trade with citizens of a poor country.

Your premise is that poverty is an unfair trade advantage. That's nuts.

Tom C
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Again: To put another way: I

Again: To put another way: I don't think, from a moral standpoint, "market equilibrium" should require bringing American workers' wages to the level of slave labor in China or Brazil. And, as Americans, there is nothing wrong with protecting our jobs, workers and industry.

And separately, most people who espouse "free trade" wouldn't know what that is if it them in the face with a mackerel. Regulation itself often inhibits free trade. American regulations and taxes (including payroll taxes, sales taxes and property taxes) amount to an effective tariff on American manufacturers to operate in their own markets.

Economike
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There's no free lunch.

Again: To put another way: I don't think, from a moral standpoint, "market equilibrium" should require bringing American workers' wages to the level of slave labor in China or Brazil. And, as Americans, there is nothing wrong with protecting our jobs, workers and industry.

I don't disagree that what's called "labor factor equalization" is a real phenomenon in today's world. Globalization has reduced returns to unskilled labor in developed nations. Expanded trade has made the world more competitive - and consequently wealthier. No unilateral government action can undo or reverse this result.

I disagree that government action to "protect" jobs will enhance prosperity or "protect" anyone, at least in the long run. A policy of subsidizing uncompetitive industries by taxing everyone dooms a nation to second-rate status. Eventually, no one will want to buy buggy whips from protected buggy whip makers.

The morality of protecting jobs is offset by the evil both of restricting Americans' freedom of choice and of condemning them to less income than they would enjoy without "protection." I repeat my contention that when government protects an industry by forcing consumers to subsidize it, consumers are made poorer. As I wrote, you can't expect greater output with costlier inputs. The expectation that protective tariffs will somehow raise average income is magical thinking.

And separately, most people who espouse "free trade" wouldn't know what that is if it them in the face with a mackerel. Regulation itself often inhibits free trade. American regulations and taxes (including payroll taxes, sales taxes and property taxes) amount to an effective tariff on American manufacturers to operate in their own markets.

Of course there's no such thing as "free trade." This is not an argument in favor of more restrictions on trade; it's an argument against excessive taxation and regulation.

mainemom
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There's no defending the

There's no defending the tariffs. Just plain dumb.

The only good news about it is that it can easily be rescinded.

Whereas, if Clinton were president, she'd head us down a progressive road that would take a generation to roll back, if ever.

Tom C
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The Clintons opened up global

The Clintons opened up global trade, and banked millions, if not billions, for doing that. Hilllary wouldn't lift a finger to help American workers.

Tom C
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I disagree that government

Expanded trade has made the world more competitive - and consequently wealthier.

So what? We should be looking out for our American workers, not sacrificing his ability to support his family in order to see some slave in China see his wage go up from 10 a day to 20 cents a day. Nor for a billionaire who sees his wealth go from 2 billion to 4 billion.

Pointing to those as a satisfactory "increase in wealth" is unimpressive, if not a foolish, goal.

Now, I don't begrudge the billionaire his wealth, and I think that we should have compassion for those trapped in poverty by national conditions and exploitation. But we're not taking about a "little sacrifice" for many Americans here to achieve that. We are talking about the devastation of entire communities and regions.

I disagree that government action to "protect" jobs will enhance prosperity or "protect" anyone, at least in the long run.

One of the first stated purposes of the United States federal government was to protect American trade with tariffs. As a matter of fact, until the Civil War, virtually all revenue for the government was customs and tariffs. Tariffs were the major source of revenue until the income tax act was passed in 1913.

This visceral opposition to tariffs is relatively new. I think it's a concept generated by globalists and those who promote the New World Order. People who think of themselves as "libertarians" have taken up this idea without fully understanding the historical and economic context.

Economike
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Tom C. -

Tom C. -

You misunderstand my point. The world is wealthier, not at the expense of the US, but along with the US. Remember, trade isn't a zero-sum game.

There's a critical difference between revenue tariffs and protective tariffs. Revenue tariffs collect maximum revenues from robust trade. Protective tariffs are designed to discourage trade.

Speaking of history, "visceral opposition" to tariffs extends back to Adam Smith, who recognized that domestic manufacturers try to capture government to protect themselves from competition. 1776 isn't recent.

Tom C
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The first tariffs were

The first tariffs were absolutely protective.

Adam Smith didn't like tariffs, but he did recognize that they protected individual jobs and income.

Economike
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Although these two issues don

Although these two issues don't pertain to the effectiveness of protectionist policies, here's a brief response.

The first tariffs (1789) were not "absolutely protective." (Presumably, "absolutely protective" would mean that the Congress intended to discourage all foreign trade in competition with domestic manufacturers.) Actually, northern industrial interests advocated for higher tariffs, southern agricultural interests favored lower tariffs, they all compromised on mostly moderate revenue tariffs. And so, since they were aiming at revenue for the new government, revenue tariffs were enacted. The Northern interest's capture of tariff policy occurred thirty years later.

Yes, Adam Smith "didn't like tariffs," at least tariffs intended to insulate domestic producers from competition. This is consistent with his theories. So how and when, pray tell, did he "recognize that [tariffs] protected jobs and income?"

Ugenetoo
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If Trump's plan helps to

If Trump's plan helps to preserve the steel and aluminum manufacturing infrastructure in this country, I'm OK with paying a few dollars a month towards the goal of making sure that those industries, essential to our national defense, are in place.
Over the years we've seen the damage done by allowing our energy sector to deteriorate to the point where our economy was endangered.

Economike
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Well, ugenetoo, you're

Well, Ugenetoo, you're refreshingly honest.

You're willing to pay for the illusory hope that Trump's tax on steel and his tariff war will succeed. Many of his supporters think they're going to get a raise, along with a free lunch.

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