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Whole new approach is needed on imports

President Obama is fond of quoting Abraham Lincoln. But when Obama went to Pittsburgh on Friday to plug manufacturing, he did not quote Lincoln's very first political statement in which he backed "high tariff protections" (taxes) against imported manufactured goods.

Lincoln, in 1832 a candidate for the Illinois Legislature, and only 23 years old, was merely repeating Whig Party truisms that Illinois, all America, would be more prosperous if we ourselves made the stuff we buy instead of England.

It is a simple idea: Make it here, sell it here; create jobs and tax revenue to build America, and sustain Americans. Instead of building China's state capitalism and military might.

Nearly two centuries later, the United States has lost millions of manufacturing jobs to one-sided "free trade" -- 2.5 million since 2001 alone. Yet the connection between outsourcing decent-paying factory jobs and America's biggest problems seems to have escaped almost everybody.

Congress, including most Democrats, dodges the obvious fact that the surge of Asian imports has depressed employment and impoverished our cities, turning huge urban tracts into war zones with crippled schools. Now Obama and Congress are in a crisis over whether this country even can pay its lenders. To deal with the politics of this mess, Obama is reverting to type. He is kicking the can down the street with stunts and sloganeering, pretending that the country's manufacturing base is on the rebound.

A report issued last week says that the decline is getting much worse. The U.S. Business and Industry Council (USBIC) reports that outsourcing of some of our most sophisticated "advanced industries," as the private research group called them, took place in the depths of our Great Recession, and is ongoing.

We're not talking shoes and clothing here. Those plants are gone. The new list of domestic employers under attack includes makers of machine tools, turbines, computers, electricity testing instruments, household freezers, chemicals, semiconductors, medical equipment and prescription drugs. These are skill jobs, some requiring post-secondary schooling.

The new data helps explain why China's growth rate was a robust 7.4 percent in 2009, while ours plunged to a first quarter low of minus 6.8 percent at the same time.

Alan Tonelson, the USBIC research fellow who compiled the report, doesn't come right out and urge import tariffs, or taxes. But he says Obama would be better off if he controlled imports instead of merely encouraging exports. Just selling our own American-made high-tech goods to our own domestic markets, Tonelson said, would have boosted our economy hundreds of billions even in 2009.

Tonelson says the country "needs a whole new approach" to imports, including strict enforcement of existing trade laws and countering China's undervaluing its currency, which gives it a 40 percent price advantage over U.S. goods.

Another private group, the Alliance for American Manufacturing, has been calling on the White House for years to declare China a currency manipulator, which would start the machinery for financial sanctions against their goods. Obama won't touch it, any more than President George W. Bush would.

Few Republicans care. It's their knee-jerk belief in "free trade." With Democrats, it's stupidity, indifference to their old blue-collar constituency and simple avarice. The Democrats need billions in campaign money to keep the White House and the Senate. Unemployed factory workers don't have it. Wall Street globalists do.

So Democrats build Potemkin villages, neighborhoods with fake store fronts. Such as the program for "advanced manufacturing" by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, offering tax credits to manufacturers. It will do next to nothing without Tonelson's "whole new approach" to imports.

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com

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