(What's Left of) Our Economy, Biden, CCP Virus, China, coronavirus, COVID 19, Donald Trump, manufacturers, manufacturing, metals, National Association of Manufacturers, recession, steel, tariffs, Trade, trade war, Wuhan virus
In recent months, I’ve written that there’s a strong case to be made for bullishness about U.S. domestic manufacturing (e.g., here and here), and added (pointedly) that this optimism is justified even though sweeping, steep Trump administration tariffs remain on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of imports from China, and from many steel-producing countries.
In fact, I’ve argued that these tariffs deserve much credit for domestic industry’s solid performance during the CCP Virus- and lockdowns-spurred downturn suffered by the U.S. economy over the last year – by preventing foreign-made goods from supplying much of the American demand for manufactures that had continued. I’ve also contended that as long as the tariffs remain in place, domestic manufacturers will keep enjoying a big edge over the foreign competition for satisfying the demand that will be restored as recovery proceeds.
Therefore, it’s great to report evidence that U.S.-based manufacturers appear to agree, at least implicitly, and it comes from the National Association of Manufacturers’ (NAM) latest survey of its members’ views on their future prospects. As the organization reports before presenting its new data:
“After plummeting sharply last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the global recession, manufacturing activity has rebounded sharply, with the sector being a bright spot in the economy in recent months. Manufacturing production is likely to exceed pre-pandemic levels in the next couple months, and employment in the sector has risen in all but one month since April 2020.”
That resilience, of course, was displayed with the trade curbs erected by the Trump administration fully in place. Strengthening the case that domestic manufacturers will keep performing strongly going forward are the NAM’s findings that the 450 respondent companies’ confidence about their outlooks were the brightest since December, 2019 – just before the virus and the lockdowns hit the American economy, and when the tariffs were of course also fully in place.
And when asked about their “primary current business challenge,” only 29.3 percent mentioned “trade uncertainties,” which included “actual or proposed tariffs” and “trade negotiation uncertainty.” By contrast, the respondents’ top worry by far was “increased raw material costs” (76.22 percent). Second was “attracting and retaining a quality workforce” (65.78 percent).
It’s true that some of the rising commodity prices mentioned by the companies are stemming from the Trump tariffs, especially on metals. But they’re also surely due to the surprising speed of the economy’s rebound, which itself inevitably has created numerous bottlenecks. (As RealityChek regulars know, metals are typically a small fraction of overall costs even in major metals-using industries like automotive.)
Further, the respondents were given these choices – so their answers weren’t exactly spontaneous. Indeed, NAM placed the “trade negotiation uncertainty” third in its list of twelve possible answers, and when pollsters ask such “closed-end questions” (as opposed to their “open-ended” counterparts,” where respondents aren’t prompted at all), placement can influence results – in this case, boosting the odds of being selected.
There’s little doubt that ideologues and economists of all stripes will keep fighting the trade and tariff wars – since the issue hasn’t remotely been settled in theory. But the new NAM survey and domestic manufacturing’s strong performance during one of the U.S. economy’s most challenging periods in decades encouragingly indicate that the matter is being settled where it counts – in fact, and in favor of the proposition that tariffs can be a boon for industry. So does President Biden’s decision that these levies aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.