An Index of American Decline

by Patrick J Buchanan – February 23, 2004

Sen. John Edwards did not win Wisconsin, but he closed a huge gap with John Kerry with astonishing speed in the final week.

The issue propelling Edwards was jobs, the lost jobs under George Bush, and Edwards’ attribution of blame for the losses on NAFTA and the trade deals for which John Kerry voted in Congress.

Edwards has plugged into an issue that could cost Bush his presidency. Indeed, Kerry’s sudden conversion into fiery critic of trade deals for which he himself voted suggests that he senses not only his vulnerability on Super Tuesday, but his opportunity in the fall.

For a precise measure of what this issue is about, one can do no better than to consult Charles McMillion of MGB Services here. Each February, McMillion methodically pulls together from the Bureau of Labor Statistics his grim annual index of the decline and fall of the greatest industrial republic the world had ever seen.

Since Bush’s inauguration, 2.8 million U.S. manufacturing jobs have simply vanished. By industry, the job losses are heaviest in computers, where 28 percent of all the manufacturing jobs that existed when Bush took office are gone, semiconductors where we have lost 37 percent, and communications equipment, where jobs losses have reached 39 percent in just three years.

One in three textile and apparel jobs has disappeared, and the losses continue to run at the rate of 100,000 jobs a year. This helps to explain Edwards’ rout of Kerry in South Carolina.

With the markets soaring, the Bush recovery is being called a jobless recovery. Not so. We are creating millions of jobs overseas – even as we are destroying manufacturing jobs at a rate of 77,000 per month in the United States.

Consider. Last year, we bought $958 billion worth of foreign manufactures and our trade deficit in manufactures alone was over $400 billion, more than $1 billion a day. Millions of foreign workers now labor in plants that manufacture for America, doing jobs that used to be done by American workers.

Not so long ago, Detroit was the auto capital of the world and the United States was the first nation in the production of televisions.

Now we don’t make televisions any more. And our trade deficits in cars, trucks, televisions, video cassette recorders, automatic data-processing equipment and office machines added up last year to $218 billion. We retain a trade surplus in airplanes and airplane parts, but, because of the competition from Airbus, that is shrinking.

After airplanes, our No. 1 export in terms of a trade surplus is … soybeans. Corn is next, followed by wheat, animal feeds, cotton, meat, metal ore, scrap, gold, hides and skins, pulp and waste paper, cigarettes, mineral fuels, rice, printed materials, coal, tobacco, crude fertilizer and glass. Airplanes aside, the United States has the export profile of an agricultural colony.

Our largest trade deficit with any country is with China. It has rocketed from $22 billion in Clinton’s first year to $124 billion last year. “The World’s Most Unequal Trade Relationship” is how McMillion describes it.

What were our best-selling items to China, where we ran a $2.8 billion surplus? Oil seeds and soybeans. What was China’s biggest selling items to us? Computers and electrical machinery and equipment, where Beijing ran surpluses at our expense of $50 billion.

There are bright spots, however, in the bleak jobs picture painted by McMillion. State and local governments added 600,000 workers in three years. Some 21.5 million of us now work for state, local and federal governments – one in six Americans, 7 million more workers than we have employed in all of manufacturing.

Perhaps this is what the Weekly Standard is bragging about when it celebrates Bush’s “Big Government Conservatism.”

To read these numbers is to understand the breach that has opened up in a conservative movement last united when Ronald Reagan went home to California.

To neoconservatives of the Wall Street Journal school, these trade numbers are yardsticks of their success at creating a Global Economy and measures of their triumph in championing NAFTA, the WTO and MFN for Beijing. To the Old Right, however, manufacturing was a critical component of American power, indispensable to our sovereignty and independence, and the access road for working Americans into the middle class.

Seeing the devastation of NAFTA and its progeny, sensing rising opportunity in the industrial Midwest, Democrats are jumping ship on free trade. Bush, if he does not temper his enthusiasm for these one-sided trade deals, may just go down with it. If he does, one prays he will at least ensure the neoconservatives have first been locked securely in the cargo hold.