Donald Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum, along with uncertainty over trade deals, mean job losses and less prosperity for those of us who live and work in middle America.
A flood of analyses shows any employment gains from the steel and aluminum industries will be more than offset by job losses from higher prices of those products. One study predicted a net loss of 146,000 American jobs, with Midwest manufacturing workers taking it on the chin.
More broadly, all of Americans should reject the Trump tariffs because they reflect a fearful mindset that does not honor the traditions of our success. Tariffs are a damaging protectionist policy that harms jobs of today while losing focus on the jobs of the future in advanced manufacturing, information solutions and value-added agriculture fueled by the innovative digital economy. Crippling farm markets and increasing costs for consumers for durable goods is not the way to secure America’s economic future, in the heartland or anywhere else.
What if JFK’s response to the existential threat of winning the “race for space” was to isolate and protect America from that challenge? Thinking about Trump’s tariffs, what would JFK do? He might say … the race for tomorrow’s economy will go on whether we join in it or not. A nation that aspires to lead other nations must confront this new economic challenge head on.
If we learned anything from our past industrial boom, it’s that America has always prospered by looking ahead, embracing change and adapting to new realities. That was certainly true when the farming economy was being displaced by steel and aluminum production in the last century. It’s true again as we grapple with how to address the forces of economic change in a digital age.
A recent McKinsey report found automation could eliminate up to 73 million jobs by 2030, affecting every community, whether you are an Iowa farmer or Michigan automaker. These changes are disruptive but also an opportunity, because innovation and rising productivity lead to future growth. Yes, hold countries accountable for fair trade agreements. At the same time, recognize jobs are changing despite our best trade deals. Workers who are displaced deserve policies that offer them a better future, like investing in them and the skills of the future, not higher prices and closed markets.
Thankfully The NewDEAL “Developing Exceptional American Leaders” network (www.newdealleaders.org) is a farm team of approximately 150 state and local leaders who are turning ideas like these into action so our communities, and ultimately our country, can thrive in the new economy. Our efforts represent a forward-thinking agenda for economic growth in America. In Rhode Island, Treasurer Seth Magaziner has a creative way to infuse local banks and credit unions with capital for innovative small business growth. In New Jersey, state senator Troy Singleton is making health and retirement benefits portable between jobs in the new “gig” economy. In Chattanooga, Mayor Andy Berke is easing the transition from old to new with a 140-acre Innovation District around a vacated utility office building now recognized as a home of one of Tennessee’s most successful business accelerators, a training program for youths and disadvantaged people. Similarly, here in Waterloo we’re investing in additive manufacturing using 3-D printers at an old John Deere manufacturing site called the Techworks Campus, so we can win the war for talent and new ideas our future depends on.
We can both bridge the jobs gap of the present and expand opportunity for all Americans in tomorrow’s economy. The Trump tariffs are an irresponsible attempt to protect and isolate Americans from the present while making it harder to win the economy of the future. Like JFK, let us embrace these challenges in the same way he inspired us to win the race for space, by winning the economy of the future with investment in innovation and in the American people directly with skills that last a lifetime. Let us revive the can-do spirit of America instead of fear and isolation.