John's World: Is the Trade War a "Voluntary Sacrifice" Or Not

Is the Trade War a "Voluntary Sacrifice" or not? John Phipps digs into the topic in Customer Support. ( MGN )

From Carlton Nelson in Minnesota, this comment about the trade situation:

“One largely overlooked aspect of the ‘trade War’ with China is the simple fact that the trade agreements that exist have been made by consenting adults.  These are people like you me who have chosen to buy and sell because it is in their self-interest. No one has forced us to buy Chinese-made goods.  It has simply been the decision to get the best deal. The Chinese also look for good deals and if they can buy soybeans without tariffs that are cheaper, they’re just making the best deal.”

I largely agree with this position concerning the requirement to share technology when you manufacture in China. Firms wanting to do business in China to sell to that vast market certainly have known for decades it would occur. If they did not factor in the loss of proprietary technology, they failed due diligence, in my view.

Trade with China has clearly proven to be a massive positive economic gain for all countries involved. In our case, American consumers have enjoyed the significant benefit of much cheaper consumer goods, like textiles and electronics, raising the standard of living for virtually all Americans. Meanwhile, American commodities like grains and meats helped improve foreign diets with their quality and low cost.

That said, more free trade enthusiasts like me should have noticed sooner how profoundly specific sectors were being devastated by Chinese trade policy. The evidence shows more open trade has been an overall plus for both economies, but those businesses that could not compete with cheap labor or relied on protections like patents or copyrights for their profit suffered. Our safety net was insufficient to help them adjust or limited to too few industries.

My regret is in the heady moments of cheap imports, epitomized by the rapid domination of retail markets by giants like Walmart, we did not have the wisdom to enact mechanisms to balance the gains with the pains. It would have been difficult politically, but we who flourished with expanding trade underestimated the power of the those who did not to undo decades of overall global prosperity.