On several occasions, since my brief dalliance with a company and website called American Certified – which, alas, is no longer in business – I have cited a group I first ran across around that timeframe called the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM.) I have also pointed out that their perspective comes from their backing, as it is a conglomeration mainly composed of unionized steel manufacturers – so I always assumed they were more in line with the Democratic Party than the Republicans, which traditionally have been more in favor of free trade rather than protectionism.
So I had an e-mail in my back pocket that I was going to mention in a piece like this. Originally it laid out AAM’s plans for both conventions, but I received an updated version of their plans for the Democratic convention confirming that’s where the effort would be.
Here was their slate for the GOP in Cleveland:
AAM is hosting the Keep it Made in America tent, a space located just outside the Quicken Loans arena where we are chatting with convention-goers about ways to grow American manufacturing jobs. We also are speaking at a number of state delegation breakfasts, sharing with local, state and national lawmakers the issues that we think must be on their policy agendas.
AAM president Scott Paul added in a blog post last week:
(T)rade and the atrophy of middle-income factory jobs are dominating the national political discussion. Trump talks about it constantly. But he’s not alone, and this is the first time in the post-World War II era that we’ve seen both party candidates take the issue so seriously.
It’s better late than never. Before you write off Trump’s bellicose “45 percent tariff” rhetoric as low-brow protectionism – or find the change of heart on the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Hillary Clinton experienced on the trail a little too politically convenient – keep in in mind that a lot of our fellow Americans agree with this sentiment. They certainly do here in Ohio.
The logic behind free trade, though, is that nations benefit when value is maximized and it may be possible to add more value to a product in another location than it is in America. Yet the AAM argues – correctly to an extent – that nations like China take advantage of the rules by not dealing fairly through a policy of subsidizing industries and currency manipulation.
On the other hand, though, AAM will certainly be pulling out all the stops for the Democrats in Philadelphia, including what they describe as a “scene-setting Town Hall meeting”:
The Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) is hosting a conversation about why these issues matter for our economy, our children’s future and our politics today.
Recent focus group and polling data show these topics are driving voters’ decisions on which candidate to select. Both Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump have been aggressive in defining their plans for trade and manufacturing.
Confirmed Speakers Include:
- Gene Sperling, key economic adviser to Hillary Clinton
- Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers
- Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA 3rd District)
- Mark Mellman, award-winning pollster for Democratic leaders
- Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing
- Mike Langford, president of the Utility Workers Union of America
- Tom Conway, international vice president of the United Steelworkers
This to me represents less of an exchange of information as it would be an echo chamber.
Protectionism and punishing corporations that choose to offshore manufacturing is one possible answer, of course. But the thing I always think about when this conversation comes up is the East German Trabant automobile that was hopelessly stuck decades behind the times when Germany finally reunited in 1990. Because it had a protected market, what incentive did Trabant have for improvement?
Unfortunately, a short-sighted government-centered approach that saw manufacturers as cash cows for big government and favored the big guys over leaner, hungrier start-ups through regulation too burdensome for smaller competitors to withstand has done as much (or more) to curtail American manufacturing as our trade policies have. While I certainly don’t believe many of our larger trade agreements were tailored to suit our interests enough, for the most part it’s the complexity of the deals and how they worked out exceptions for certain industries and players that is the issue. If we simply said “we won’t tariff your stuff if you don’t tariff ours” and both sides stuck to it, eventually the market would find its own level. America should be able to use the advantages of a predictable legal system, well-educated workforce, abundant sources of energy, and outstanding transportation network, but they are negated by the policies in place that I describe above.
The generation of my grandparents won World War II by being able to produce within our borders much of the material and equipment needed to keep a two-front fighting force going. Can anyone honestly say we could do that today? I don’t wish us to be on a war footing, but I’m convinced America can be a place that makes things again. It’s a simple matter of policy over protectionism, and adopting a hands-off approach at the federal level (yes, there’s that limited government idea of mine again) would be the best course of action. I just don’t think AAM would be willing to listen to that argument.