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One of my favorite sayings holds that “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” and a recent column on the RealClearMarkets.com website on steel tariffs does a splendid job of showing why.

According to author Michael Cannivet, who heads an investment company “serving high net worth private clients,” President Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on steel imports from a wide (but still to be determined precisely) group of U.S. trade partners are “not a real long-term solution” for “cities reliant on American steel and aluminum production” because they’re certain to harm U.S. companies in the sector that are “working hard to reinvent themselves by innovating.” And he chooses as a prime example a steel firm close to his heart – AK Steel, which has a plant in his wife’s hometown of Middletown, Ohio that has employed “generations of her family.”

But in Cannivet’s eyes, AK’s experiences are also important because (quoting another author):

AK Steel is the result of a 1989 merger between Armco Steel and Kawasaki. The Kawasaki merger represented an inconvenient truth: Manufacturing in America as a tough business since the post-globalization world. If companies like Armco were going to survive, they would have to retool. Kawasaki gave Armco a chance, and Middletown’s flagship company probably would not have survived it.”

This analysis is absolutely right – except it omits one crucial point. Kawasaki – a Japanese steel company – didn’t merge with Armco out of the goodness of its heart, or simply because it viewed the Armco operations in question as unusually promising assets. It also merged with – and transferred state-of-the-art production technologies – to Armco in large measure because Reagan-era trade restrictions severely limited its opportunities to supply the lucrative American market via exporting from Japan. Here’s some evidence from none other than the Japan government-run Japan Economic Institute of America (an often useful source of information and analysis that unfortunately closed its doors in the very early 2000s):

“By the mid-1980s NKK and Japan’s other major steelmakers were beginning to eye onshore U.S. operations. Such a presence would give them a way around the trade restrictions that by then had become a fixture so that they could service the automotive and other Japanese manufacturers that were setting up plants in this country.”

And P.S. – why were so many other Japanese manufacturers (like automotive firms) setting up plants in America? Again, in large measure due to those same Reagan-era trade curbs, as explained by this recent column in The Japan Times:

The Reagan administration forced the Japanese auto industry into accepting a voluntary restraint on their exports to the U.S., under which the annual shipments from Japan was limited to 1,680,000 vehicles. The Japanese automakers responded by launching production in the U.S. one after another to evade the trade restrictions — Honda was the first by building its long-planned auto plant in Ohio, and was followed by Nissan and Toyota.”

None of this should be surprising to anyone with more than a little knowledge of trade or the globalization in manufacturing in particular. My book, The Race to the Bottom, cited an immense number of examples of national economies much smaller than the United States using tariffs or other trade barriers to lure foreign manufacturing to their shores. As a result, there’s every reason to believe that a U.S. resort to these measures would work spectacularly – and instances of precisely such successes keep emerging

And that’s of course the point of this post: Cannivet clearly doesn’t know more than a little about trade or the globalization of manufacturing. What he knows for sure is that he doesn’t like tariffs – possibly because he learned not to like them in a college freshman economics course. But apparently that was all that RealClearMarkets needed to justify showcasing his views. Maybe the site should change its name to RealClearAmateurism.