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Hell has frozen over! Death and taxes are no longer certain! Water is flowing uphill!

Those are just some of my calmer reactions upon learning that The Wall Street Journal editorial board has just endorsed the idea of a “partial decoupling” of America’s economy from China‘s.

Given today’s national mood, and the marked turn it’s taken against various domestic and international outrages committed by China, this may not sound surprising – especially if you (unlike me) haven’t immersed yourself in the trade policy wars Americans have waged against each in recent decades. But in a Mainstream Media long world filled with staunch supporters of the kinds of approaches to foreign trade and international commerce generally pursued by pre-Trump U.S. Presidents, the Journal‘s editorial writers have been far and away the staunchest. Indeed, their arguments usually read like they’ve been taken straight out of standard economic textbooks, without even paying lip service to real world complications.

Not that the Journal ever championed unfettered trade and commerce in war-time. (This exception was formally identified by the so-called Father of Capitalism, Adam Smith .) And not that it ever supported selling, say, weapons to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, or encouraging investment in North Vietnam during the 1960s and early 1970s.

But the editorial doesn’t describe today’s world in those terms. Instead, it notes that  “partial decoupling may be necessary to prevent China from accumulating more leverage to bully the free world.” and that “U.S. and allied dependence on Chinese technology in a crisis….could allow the Chinese Communist Party to disrupt or shut down parts of foreign economies—or use the threat as political leverage.”

And the Journal‘s editorial board is right. Those threats are more than serious enough to justify departures from conventional free trade and broader global economic policies – which understandably prize economic efficiency and low prices and individual economic freedoms during peacetime, but which have struggled to deal with those all too commonplace gray periods between tranquility and all-out conflict.

Yet however satisfying this apparent U-turn will be to the Journal‘s longtime trade antagonists (and take it from me – it’s really satisfying), for the sake of intellectual honesty, and of U.S. national interests, its editorial board will need to go much further. And so will other influential voices who are acting newly woke about the China threat, but who may mainly be looking for safe harbors during what they hope is merely a passing storm. Several reasons stand out, and all stem from the critical reality that no industry exists in isolation from other areas of the domestic economy – let alone other industries.

So to all the ostensible pragmatists who, for example have recognized – at least rhetorically – that national security needs to come before free trade and commerce, it’s high time to recognize the implications of a development you’ve long claimed to understand: that many products crucial for national defense also have major and even predominantly civilian functions, and that for such such dual-use goods and technologies (and not only semiconductors, but high-value manufactures of all kinds) strong domestic manufacturing bases are essential.

Moreover, maintaining strong domestic manufacturing bases requires maintaining robust production complexes for all the key parts and components of the final products.

These imperatives also apply to critical healthcare goods. For example, it doesn’t do much good to set as a goal making massive numbers of the most effective facemasks in America without also ensuring adequate domestic supplies of the raw materials and the machinery needed to make them. And currently, the global production centers are in China. Similarly, what’s the point of resolving to restore national self-sufficiency in ventilators when the nation remains woefully short of the circuit boards, sensors, computer chips, tubes, and numerous other parts they’re made of?

In addition, as pointed out repeatedly on RealityChek, the secure supply problem goes way beyond China. During the CCP Virus period, literally dozens of countries, including long-term treaty allies, have embargoed or curbed exports of healthcare equipment of all types. That is, as with war, there are few free traders during a pandemic.

The lessons of dealing with both China and the CCP Virus should be screamingly obvious: In their own ways, they both represent systemic problems, and therefore require systemic, not entity-by-entity or country-by-country, responses. Acknowledging these lessons will be the test of whether the Journal‘s editorial writers and others of their ilk actually are ready to play useful roles in developing realistic U.S. trade policies, or whether they’re simply posturing.