June 28, 2017

Radio Commentator as Ideological Propagandist: The Case of Mark Levin

market-economy-cc-565x423Will Rogers, the famed political humorist, once quipped that “Twenty men can enter a room as friends and someone can bring up the topic of Tariff, and you will find nineteen bodies on the floor with only one living that, and you will find nineteen bodies on the floor with only one living that escapes.”[1] Even in the contemporary world of the politics of global trade, Rogers’ quip continues to ring true. However, the contemporary consternation on tariffs has less to do with special interest chicanery; the debates since the close of World War II had to do with ideological principles. Such debates became very fierce within the Republican Party after World War II. Free trade ideology insinuated itself in the orthodoxy of the Republican Party leadership by the 1990s and 2000s. Since at least the 1980s, free trade and globalization became a major ideological pillar in the platform of American conservatism and the GOP. Classical liberal rootlessness became the new conservatism. Concern for infrastructure improvements, living wages, balanced trade, and economic policies geared toward the national interest became either passé, ignored, or suppressed by the new GOP mandarins. However, the grassroots of the Republican Party, certain conservative commentators and intellectuals, patriotic unionists, and independents chafed at the false promises and outright lies propagated by the conservative and libertarian globalists. With the election of Donald Trump to the presidency in November 2016, the globalist-plutocratic orthodoxy was at the receiving end of a direct challenge. The President Elect brought in various critics of economic globalism as either members of his transition team or prospective Cabinet members. They include Wilbur Ross Jr., Dan DiMicco, Steven K. Bannon, and Dr. Peter Navarro. Even dyed in the wool Beltway libertarians and free market ideologues such as Stephen Moore have issued partial mea culpas on their previous support for the deindustrialization of the United States through free trade globalization.

However, there are powerful and well-connected forces who continue to resist the will of the American electorate and the historical reality of the failure of free trade. One such individual was radio commentator and author Mark Levin. For at least one year, Levin has taken to the airwaves and his new television network to denounce fellow conservatives who supported Trump’s economic nationalism. Hence, Rogers’ quip that “Twenty men can enter a room as friends and someone can bring up the topic of Tariff, and you will find nineteen bodies on the floor with only one living that, and you will find nineteen bodies on the floor with only one living that escapes” rings true even in the contemporary crop of commentators. People who are otherwise in agreement on most issues were severely divided on the issue of globalization, trade, wage remuneration, and even immigration. The verbal battles were quite fierce.

Clearly, some commentators even lied to their listeners regarding the true nature of how America became an economic superpower and trade policy in general. On these issues, one offender was Mark Levin. Levin is an ideologue par excellence who sought to defend the modern conservative ideology of free trade, open borders, cheap labor, and even engagement of some of our adversaries. He wrote and published an article in The Conservative Review (November 18, 2016)[2] lambasting “populism” and “nationalism.” Levin is clearly a libertarian globalist and not a traditional conservative. He is currently throwing a hysterical ideological temper tantrum at the seismic shift of the Republican electorate and the tangible results of voter dissatisfaction with free trade globalization, labor arbitrage, and the exclusive domination of America by unpatriotic multinational corporate interests. Levin is clearly playing the role of a sore, bitter loser in the greater American political realignment. Many of Levin’s premises are so divorced from reality that it would cause one to seriously question “The Great One’s[3] intellectual integrity. The purpose of this article is to refute some of Levin’s dishonest assertions in his article titled “Populism, Nationalism, and Americanism.”

Mark Levin: “Americanism is the embrace of free market capitalism, not crony capitalism. But for free market capitalism, there wouldn’t be a great middle class in this country. But for free market capitalism, we could have gone the way of Russia or these other communist regimes — the so-called proletariat rising up.” 

Clearly, there is little question in my mind that an economic policy based on private enterprise and individual property is the most effective framework in assuring and enhancing prosperity. However, it also clear that human beings with aggregated power-private or public-can be corrupt, cruel, greedy, and short sighted in nature and deed. A free market in labor-management relations produced some of the most oppressive employment arrangements in American history. The massacres at Matewan and Ludlow are instructive examples. When a commentator mentions the term “free market” and “freedom” in respect to labor relations, this often translates into an arrangement which is stacked heavily towards that of the employer.

In reality, it is a system of capitalism with checks and balances which expanded the size of the middle classes and improved social mobility for many a proletarian. Property rights balanced by worker protections and strong private sector unions stabilized American capitalism. By the 1950s, even the most humble Americans became bourgeois property owners (homes), thus providing a material incentive for the working classes to become further invested into protecting the free enterprise system.

During the Golden Age of the American Economy of the 1950s, private sector unions represented 35% percent of the workforce. This was a prosperous time period for the American working and middle classes. Businesses of all sizes performed well. However, when the advocates of the “free market” accumulated tremendous power within policymaking circles and the academy, the real compensation of the middle class started to decline. More families had to work multiple jobs, thus breaking apart the traditional family structure in a way that radical feminists could never achieve on their own.

In recent years, private sector unions dropped to 6.6% of the workforce.[4] This trend occurred concurrently when tariff rates were dropped, free trade agreements were signed, corporate raiders reigned supreme, and immigration caps loosened. The American middle and working classes were subjected to increased strain and stress. Free trade and uncontrolled imports destroyed the private sector industrial workforce.

The 1980s began a full scale assault on the concept of unionization. As a result, two things happened. Public sector unions increased their power, especially with the increase in government employment. The ripple effects of trickle-down economics and free trade/open borders ironically pushed labor towards the extreme left. The door was opened to the Old Left/Communist forces to colonize the leadership of the private sector unions. Private sector union leaders then shifted increasingly towards a pro-Marxist, communist position. As Joel Kotkin of the American Enterprise magazine noted in 1999: “The penetration of labor by 1960s radicals, insiders note, came largely as a response to labor’s diminishing clout during the 1970s and 1980s. Under Carter, whom labor largely despised, and even more so under Reagan, unions saw their numbers plummet. From 34.7 percent of the work force in the mid-1950s, union membership has fallen to less than 15 percent. Even worse, the shrinkage has affected many of the strongest and best-financed industrial unions–steel, autos, and, in the 1990s, aerospace workers…Like the industrial unions in the 1930s, the public-sector unions have pushed the entire labor movement to the left. The Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, has embraced organizations with a New Left origin, such as ACORN and Cleveland’s Nine to Five, and has even set up its own gay and lesbian caucus… Marginalized during the anti-communist Meany and Kirkland era, leftists are now increasingly running labor’s asylum. They include such diverse figures as ultra-militant United Mine Workers head Richard Trumka, now AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, Karen Nussbaum, head of the AFL-CIO’s new Working Women Department, and the AFL- CIO’s executive vice president, Linda Chavez-Thompson.” One union consultant posed the rhetorical question: “How does labor get back into the game? We were getting beaten down so much, we needed to get the zealots out there–people who could communicate with the media. Sweeney represents the ascendancy of the zealots, and those zealots are virtually all from the left.”[5] Previously, America’s union leadership was dominated by right-wing social democrats who had no fundamental quarrel with the economic structure of private property and free enterprise. As George Meany remarked during labor’s heyday: “The American trade union movement is part and parcel of the American society which is capitalism. We have no quarrel with this system at all, Anyone who knows the history of American labor and American workers will understand this …The only thing on which we disagree with the capitalist is, how much do we get? That is the only thing.”[6]

In 2014, a Pew Research study summarized its findings on wage stagnation as “bigger paychecks, but little change in purchasing power.”[7] Dr. Ravi Batra also wrote “Unlike most of its trading partners, real wages in the United States have been tumbling since 1973, the first year of the country’s switch to laissez-faire…Before 1973, the U.S. economy was more or less closed and self-reliant, so that efficiency gains in industry generated only a modest price fall, and real earnings soared for all Americans…Moreover, it turns out that 1973 was the first year in its entire history when the United States became an open economy with free trade.”[8]

The most conservative and pro-business Republicans also recognized the importance of higher wages for the working classes. They realized that higher wages translated in increased purchasing power, thus resulting in a stronger economy. While Republicans often opposed the concept of the minimum wage, they did believe that tariffs would provide an atmosphere for workers to increase their take-home pay. President William McKinley noted that:

“I do not prize the word cheap. It is not a word of inspiration. It is the badge of poverty, the signal of distress. Cheap merchandise means cheap men and cheap men mean a cheap country.”

“Reduce the tariff, and labor is the first to suffer…protection will always be necessary if we would pay our skilled and unskilled workingmen higher wages than are paid in the Old World. Protection is largely, although not wholly, a question of wages. Free trade ignores the welfare of the workingmen, and therefore does not concern itself with their wages except to reduce them. If our people were content to receive the wages that are paid abroad, if they were willing to accept the scant comforts and squalid surroundings of European workingmen and their families, it is possible that protection might be abandoned and our manufactures still live; but they will not be content with such rewards for their labor, nor would it be for the best interests of society and the Nation that they should be…A reduction of duties at this time would not only still further reduce the wages of labor, but would cause the stoppage of industrial establishments in every State of the Union, thus increasing the distress and the jealousy of workingmen toward employers, which it should be the object of all wise legislation to mitigate.”[9]

The Republican Platform of 1928 noted:

“We reaffirm our belief in the protective tariff as a fundamental and essential principle of the economic life of this nation…It has stimulated the development of our natural resources, provided fuller employment at higher wages through the promotion of industrial activity, assured thereby the continuance of the farmer’s major market, and further raised the standards of living and general comfort and well-being of our people. The great expansion in the wealth of our nation during the past fifty years, and particularly in the past decade, could not have been accomplished without a protective tariff system designed to promote the vital interests of all classes. Nor have these manifest benefits been restricted to any particular section of the country. They are enjoyed throughout the land either directly or indirectly. Their stimulus has been felt in industries, farming sections, trade circles, and communities in every quarter. However, we realize that there are certain industries which cannot now successfully compete with foreign producers because of lower foreign wages and a lower cost of living abroad, and we pledge the next Republican Congress to an examination and where necessary a revision of these schedules to the end that American labor in these industries may again command the home market, may maintain its standard of living, and may count upon steady employment in its accustomed field.

Adherence to that policy is essential for the continued prosperity of the country. Under it the standard of living of the American people has been raised to the highest levels ever known. Its example has been eagerly followed by the rest of the world whose experts have repeatedly reported with approval the relationship of this policy to our prosperity, with the resultant emulation of that example by other nations…The United States is the largest customer in the world today. If we were not prosperous and able to buy, the rest of the world also would suffer. It is inconceivable that American labor will ever consent to the abolition of protection which would bring the American standard of living down to the level of that in Europe, or that the American farmer could survive if the enormous consuming power of the people in this country were curtailed and its market at home, if not destroyed, at least seriously impaired.”[10]

Even the ardently pro-business Republican President Calvin Coolidge asserted that: “Our tariff enables us to pay American workmen the highest wages in the world. Before we get carried away with any visionary expectation of promoting the public welfare by a general avalanche of cheap foreign goods from foreign sources, imported under a system, which, whatever it may be called, is in reality free trade, it will be will first to count the cost and realize just what such a proposal really means. I am for protection because it maintains American standards of living and business, for agriculture, industry, and labor.”[11]

Even some prominent anti-Federalist/Democratic-Republican politicians realized the strategic and economic folly in their support for free trade. They included Thomas Jefferson after the War of 1812 and President Andrew Jackson. They believed that the health of the American middle class, national security, and capitalist system would be enhanced through a more nationalist trade policy. In fact, Andrew Jackson observed that We have been too long subject to the policy of the British merchants. It is time we should become a little more Americanized, and, instead of feeding the paupers and laborers of Europe, feed our own, or else, in a short time, by continuing our present policy, we shall all be paupers ourselves.”[12]

The eras of deregulation (really crony deregulation for politically powerful interests such as investment banks and import-dependent industries), free trade, union busting, open borders, and conservative/libertarian opposition to the concept of a “moral capitalism” proved to be a grave detriment to the credibility and perhaps the long term survival of the private enterprise system. It did not provide real prosperity to the American people.

Despite the abstract theories and counter-intuitive arguments to the contrary, there is no tangible evidence that pure “free markets” alone provided the basis for the development of a solid middle class in the United States. However, the rise of private sector (and non-Marxist) unions ensured that the collective mass of American workers received a slice of the capitalist pie in the American society. This was most emblematic during the period roughly from the 1940s until the 1970s, when wages rose for working and middle income Americans. Furthermore, it was policies such as tariffs and infrastructure improvements which protected our industrial base from anti-free market trade practices (e.g. dumping) and ensured the efficient transport of goods and services. Public investments such as NASA and the National Institute of Health provided positive technological and scientific advances, while (at one time) public universities and schools intellectually nurtured students to become economically independent citizens and literate voters. They complemented the wonderful work already (and still) performed by private schools, universities, and communitarian home school networks.

Mark Levin: “People forget the results of free market capitalism — our trajectory from electricity in every home to heat and eventually air conditioning. Free market capitalism gave birth to new forms of energy, which massively improved the lifestyles of almost all Americans. It made possible everything that runs on fossil fuels, including automobiles, engines, things we take for granted. It made possible the production and the refinement of steel. In other words, it created this great explosion of industrial America, making us the greatest, most powerful economic force on the face of the earth (and eventually, the greatest military force on the face of the earth). That’s what free market capitalism gave.”

“The great power of the American economy was not created by government or tariffs or protectionism or progressivism or populism or nationalism.”

Once again, Levin the Ideologue reduces complex history to the worship of a utopian principle. In that respect, Levin’s temperament is similar to the Left’s “Faith Based Economics.” (This phrase is borrowed from economist Ian Fletcher). The actual historical record tells a somewhat different story. Clearly, economic freedom did play a role in providing an atmosphere to innovate and produce high quality manufactured goods. However, the Federal government industrial policy did play a major role in ensuring the development and expansion of American industrial ingenuity. According to Dr. Quentin Skrabec, British Prince Albert and Queen Victoria visited the Great Exhibition in 1851 and were impressed with America’s rapid technological and industrial growth. Shocked at this results, they returned to Great Britain and commissioned a group which investigated the reasons why the US achieved rapid industrial growth. The reasons were:

  1. Exploitation of energy and natural resources. (Note: rather than importing them.)
  2. A high literacy rate. (Note: Thanks to private parochial and public (common) government schools under local control).
  3. Few barriers to organizing business.
  4. Workers’ lack of resistance to innovation.
  5. Use of high tariffs.
  6. A highly competitive nature amongst the entrepreneurial class.[13]

As Frank Bourgin argued in The Great Challenge: The Myth of Laissez-Faire in the Early Republic, many of our early leaders in our constitutional republic accepted varying levels of government investments and/or controls, especially over foreign trade. It is also clear that all of our Founders strongly supported the concept of individual property rights and free enterprise. Bourgin cited the cases of Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, and Albert Gallatin supporting government intervention in an effort to create a solid national privately owned industrial base, infrastructure, and class of small landowners. Hamilton, who was President George Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury, supported tariffs and a National Bank in an effort to stimulate industry; Secretary of State Gallatin and President John Quincy Adams supported the development of a national transportation system; and Thomas Jefferson renounced his earlier support of free trade, imposed tariffs, and crafted policies which promoted land ownership by Americans.

The American System was an economic plan that played a prominent role in American policy during the first half of the 19th century. Rooted in the American School ideas of Alexander Hamilton, the plan “consisted of three mutually reinforcing parts: a tariff to protect and promote American industry; a national bank to foster commerce; and federal subsidies for roads, canals, and other ‘internal improvements’ to develop profitable markets for agriculture.”[14]

The government also purchased war related goods from American industries during the War of 1812. The War of 1812 provided tremendous stimulus to American manufacturing. It encouraged American manufacturers to produce goods previously imported from overseas. By 1816, 100,000 factory workers, two-thirds of them women and children, produced more than $40 million worth of manufactured goods a year. Capital investment in textile manufacturing, sugar refining, and other industries totaled $100 million.

Following the war, however, cheap British imports flooded the nation, threatening to undermine local industries. In Parliament, a British minister defended the practice of dumping goods at prices below their actual cost on grounds that outraged Americans. “It is well worth while,” the minister declared, “to incur a loss upon the first exportation, in order, by a glut, to stifle in the cradle those rising manufacturers in the United States which the war had forced into existence.” So severe was the perceived threat to the nation’s economic independence that Thomas Jefferson, who had once denounced manufacturing as a menace to the nation’s republican values, spoke out in favor of protecting manufacturing industries: “We must now place the manufacturer by the side of the agriculturalist.”

Congress responded to the flood of imports by continuing a tariff set during the War of 1812 to protect America’s infant industries from low-cost competition. With import duties ranging from 15 to 30 percent on cotton, textiles, leather, paper, pig iron, wool, and other goods, the tariff promised to protect America’s growing industries from foreign competition. Shipping and farming interests opposed the tariff on the grounds that it would make foreign goods more expensive to buy and would provoke foreign retaliation. Hence, the Federal government provided vitally needed protection to American industry after the British decided to conquer the United States through economic warfare.[15]

“Beginning with Alexander Hamilton’s proposals for the industrial and technological development of the United States through use of subsidies, tariffs and patents, U.S. leaders pursued the ‘American System’ of government-business partnership for national development of things like the Erie Canal, the telegraph, the transcontinental railroad, the aircraft industry, the RCA company founded by the U.S. Navy, and much more…The American System consisted of government policies and programs aimed at developing advanced infrastructure and protecting and subsidizing development of intellectual property and manufacturing industries. This, of course, was antithetical to the free-market, laissez-faire policies…”[16]

Even during the Republican-led economic expansion of the Roaring Twenties, the GOP did not hew to pure laissez faire liberalism. In the view of conservative Republicans, government played a positive role in the economic development of the nation through tariffs, infrastructure improvements, and other programs which benefited the expansion of productive enterprises. The 1928 Republican Platform also supported the recruitment of exemplary civil service personnel through higher wages and retirement benefits; Federal support for the marketing of agricultural products; disbursement of low interest loans and credits to farmers; road and highway construction under the terms of the Federal Road Act, which was passed by the Republican-dominated Congress; restrictions on immigration which prevented the “glutting of our labor market”; development of the merchant marine, railroads, Mississippi Flood Relief and Control, and the strengthening of the Interstate Commerce Commission.[17]

Even America’s mighty industrialists recognized the crucial role that tariffs played in the development of America’s industrial prowess. For example, the famed Joseph Wharton observed that free traders “assume for their dogmas an infallibility as absolute as that claimed by the Pope for his dicta…and preaching everywhere the superior claims of their strange creed over the mere bonds of patriotism so that the revenues, development, and the existence of States are to perish in order that their fungus, Trade Philanthropy, may fatten for a while upon the decay, these verbose prophets of the new philosophy have become a nuisance and a source of infection which healthy political organisms can hardly afford to tolerate.”[18]

Mark Levin: “It is also true that they (the Founders) used tariffs at the time, after the Constitution was adopted, because they didn’t have an income tax, and in part, those tariffs were necessary to fund the federal government. But they weren’t for the purpose of empowering far-off Washington bureaucrats and politicians to manipulate the economy.”

Plainly speaking, Levin’s above-mentioned assertion is a bald-faced lie. The Tariff Act of 1789, was the first major Act passed in the United States under its present Constitution of 1789 and had two purposes as stated in Section I of the Act which reads as follows: “Whereas it is necessary for that support of government, for the discharge of the debts of the United States, and the encouragement and protection of manufactures, that duties be laid on goods, wares and merchandise.”[19] Levin’s dishonest assertion alone should give pause to his well-intentioned listeners, who view “The Great One” as a legitimate source of information related to current events. Perhaps it is more fitting to dub Levin “The Obnoxious, Dishonest One.”

Mark Levin: “In 1922, again, the progressive Republicans — the populist nationalist Republicans — controlled Congress. And they passed the Fordney–McCumber Tariff; it covered all agricultural imports.”

Image result for Fordney-McCumber Tariff of 1922In reality, it was the conservative-nationalist, pro-business conservatives that supported the Fordney-McCumber Tariff of 1922. Most progressive Republicans and the Democrats often joined hands to oppose higher tariffs on the account of political chicanery and corruption, along with a long-standing hostility towards economic nationalism. An outstanding exception to this rule was the case of the progressive Republican Theodore Roosevelt. He supported protective tariffs, minus the economic favoritism showered to select private industrial combines. The Republican majority in Congress were nationalist, not populist by any definition. In reality, the progressive Republicans and the Democrats opposed the Fordney-McCumber Tariff. The Searchlight (a Progressive publication) believed that the Tariff benefited the dye monopoly in the United States.[20] Hence, the Bourbon Democrats and the vast majority of progressive Republicans maintained a tacit alliance on the issue of tariffs.

Contrary to Levin’s rewriting of history, the progressive Republicans aligned with the Democrats on the issue of the tariff. It appeared that the progressive Republicans objected to the special interest politics and corruption associated with the crafting of tariff levels, while the Democrats historically opposed the use of tariffs as a tool to stimulate or protect industries. The Populist Party of the late 1800s barely mentioned the issue of tariffs in its platform. The progressive Republicans aligned with the Democrats to oppose the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930 and supported the free trade agenda of President Franklin Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Below is evidence which buttresses the points that I made in the above-mentioned paragraphs.

The Omaha Platform of the Populist Party made little mention of the tariff. In fact, it called for the implementation of a “graduated income tax.”[21]

The election of 1930 handed the Democrats control of the House and, with the aid of progressive Republicans, a working majority in the Senate on trade issues.

Democrats and progressive Republicans joined forces behind the Collier bill, introduced in January 1932. Disillusioned by the way the “flexible” tariff provision had been employed simply to raise tariffs during the 1920s, Democrats and progressive Republicans sought to deprive the president of the ability to make adjustments in tariff rates and give Congress that authority instead. The bill also authorized the president to undertake negotiations with other countries to reduce tariffs.[22]

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff bill, conceived in greed, drafted in secret and packed with “jokers,” was submitted to the Senate on September 4.

With monopoly entrenched in nearly every line of industry, and with competition among American industrialists practically a thing of the past, the Smoot-Hawley bill gives to these combinations an additional margin of safety through which they can loot the American people at will, without fear of competition from abroad.

The Progressive Republicans and the Democrats have a majority in the Senate. If the rank and file of these two groups stand-firm, the Smoot-Hawley bill will be rewritten or defeated.[23]

In 1911, when Progressive Republicans held the balance of power in the Senate, Senator La Follette induced the conferees on two tariff reduction measures-dealing with wool and with the free list-to conduct their proceedings publicly.[24]

Agitation for a downward revision of the tariffs peaked in the Presidential election of 1912. Both the progressive Republicans, under Theodore Roosevelt, and the Democrats promised to recast the entire tariff structure. Although the Democrats’ platform pledge of a competitive tariff may not have accounted for Woodrow Wilson’s electoral victory, it did represent an unequivocal commitment to end the excesses of the old protective rate structure. The Democrats felt confident that their traditional free-trade approach would abolish a regressive taxation system that led to increased prices and reduced standards of living for the majority of Americans.

A strong tide of political support by progressive Republicans, reformist Democrats, and Populists complemented the business community’s advocacy of a tariff commission. The reformers naturally favored any proposal that might lead to the reduction of high customs duties that benefited interests of which they did not approve. Indeed, some of the more radical progressives would willingly have turned over all tariff-setting authority to a nonpartisan board if that would deny such power to their opponents in Congress. Simultaneously, the more conservative politicians began to recognize the usefulness of having a group of experts propose changes. This process might then insulate them from some of the charges of favoritism and insensitivity on the tariff issue.

A continuous rise in prices accompanied this prosperity, however, a rise that undermined gains in real income for workers and farmers. Even if high tariffs guaranteed high wages, as the protectionists insisted, it would not matter if, in the long run, prices increased more quickly than wages did. The Panic of 1904 jarred the people’s complacency. When an even more frenzied panic hit in 1907, protests arose from all quarters, along with calls for revision of the Federal Government’s most conspicuous economic tool, its high tariff schedules. Action became inevitable when the Progressive Republicans, a faction of the Republican Party, joined the Democrats in protesting the continuation of a tariff system that seemed to be contributing to higher prices while favoring the fortunes of a small number of producers.[25]

A coalition of Democrats and progressive Republicans joined him (Democratic Senator Alben Barkley) in forming a majority of senators willing to vote against tariff increases and against handing the White House the same tariff flexibility found in the Fordney-McCumber Act.[26]

Progressives became upset because (President) Taft was unable to push lower tariff rates through Congress, despite calling a special session in order to do so. Taft, along with the progressives, felt that high tariffs on imported goods hurt consumers and aided the huge trusts that progressives hated. But Taft’s handling of the entire situation was so inept that the compromising law that was finally passed, the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act of 1909, actually raised the tariffs on some goods.[27]

In May 1930, a petition was signed by 1,028 economists in the U.S. asking President Hoover to veto the (Smoot-Hawley Tariff) legislation, organized by Progressive and classical liberal economists such as Paul DouglasIrving FisherJames T.F.G. WoodFrank GrahamErnest PattersonHenry SeagerFrank Taussig, and Clair Wilcox.

“We believe in a protective tariff which shall equalize conditions of competition between the United States and foreign countries, both for the farmer and the manufacturer, and which shall maintain for labor an adequate standard of living.”

“Primarily the benefit of any tariff should be disclosed in the pay envelope of the laborer. We declare that no industry deserves protection which is unfair to labor or which is operating in violation of Federal law. We believe that the presumptions always in favor of the consuming public.”

“We pledge ourselves to the establishment of a non-partisan scientific tariff commission, reporting both to the President and to either branch of Congress, which shall report, first, as to the costs of production, efficiency of labor, capitalization, industrial organization and efficiency and the general competitive position in this country and abroad of industries seeking protection from Congress; second, as to the revenue-producing power of the tariff and its relation to the resources of government; and third, as to the effect of the tariff on prices, operations of middlemen, and on the purchasing power of the consumer.”

“We condemn the Payne-Aldrich bill as unjust to the people. The Republican organization is in the hands of those who have broken and cannot again be trusted to keep, the promise of necessary downward revision. The Democratic Party is committed to the destruction of the protective system through a tariff for revenue only–a policy which would inevitably produce widespread industrial and commercial disaster.” (Excerpted from the Platform of the Progressive Party of Theodore Roosevelt)[28]

Mark Levin: “To now say that we need a trillion-dollar infrastructure program, to now say that we need to further regulate our economy, which is heavily regulated with over 12,000 tariffs, to now say that that’s what the working men and women of America need?”

Levin is extremely misleading when he points out how the US economy “is heavily regulated with over 12,000 tariffs.” What Levin the Liar failed to point out is the fact that the average tariff rate that the United States charges on foreign manufactures is 2%. According to the Office of the US Trade Representative, approximately 96 percent of U.S. merchandise imports are industrial (non-agricultural) goods. The United States currently has a trade-weighted average import tariff rate of 2.0 percent on industrial goods. One-half of all industrial goods entering the United States enter duty free.[29] How does a 2% average tariff rate constitute a heavy regulation of the US economy?

Levin also repeated the globalist trade fallacy regarding the alleged negative effects of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930 on the American economy. Levin and other free traders argued that the Tariff worsened the Great Depression in the United States. On this point, Levin and globalist conservatives/libertarians were in agreement with prominent New Deal progressives and Democrats. The fact is that Smoot-Hawley did not worsen or improve the American economy in any significant way. After all, foreign trade comprised a tiny percentage of America’s economy. Imports during 1929 were only 4.2% of the United States’ GNP and exports were only 5.0%.[30]  So how could the Smoot-Hawley Tariff create the dislocation alleged by the free traders?

In the wake of the Allied victory in World War I, the internationalist League of Nations sought to eliminate tariffs. The League of Nations’ World Economic Conference met at Geneva in 1927, concluding in its final report: “the time has come to put an end to tariffs, and to move in the opposite direction.” Vast debts and reparations could only be repaid through gold, services or goods; but the only items available on that scale were goods. However, many of the delegates’ governments did the opposite, starting in 1928 when France passed a new tariff law and quota system. Ultimately, the reality of maintaining national economies and sovereignty trumped utopian idealism. Other nations continued to erect tariff barriers even before the United States passed the Tariff Act of 1930 (Smoot-Hawley).[31]

The Smoot-Hawley tariff was not a response to the Great Depression: preparation for tariff revision began in late 1928 in reaction to the severe economic distress faced by farmers, well before the stock market crash or the slide in aggregate output and employment. Instead, Smoot-Hawley became infamous as a result of the economic catastrophes that occurred in its wake.

The Smoot-Hawley tariff, however, was almost surely not responsible for causing the Great Depression. There are no strong theoretical or empirical grounds for maintaining that higher average tariffs lead to business cycle downturns; the larger Fordney-McCumber tariff increase, for example, was followed by an economic recovery. Pushing up the average tariff from 40 to 47 percent, as in the case of Smoot-Hawley we shall see, results in just a 5 to 6 percent increase in the relative price of imports at a time when imports were only 4 percent of the GNP. It is not even clear whether the tariff exacerbated or ameliorated the Depression. Two studies of the macroeconomic effects of Smoot-Hawley differ as to the direction of the effect, although they arrive at comparable magnitudes-which are small, relative to the Depression itself.[32]

Levin also implied that President Hoover was a full supporter of Smoot-Hawley. However, the historical evidence provided a somewhat different picture. While Hoover had nationalist impulses, he was first and foremost an internationalist with humanitarian leanings. President Hoover initially opposed the bill and called it “vicious, extortionate, and obnoxious” because he felt it would undermine the commitment he had pledged to international cooperation. However, in spite of his opposition, Hoover yielded to influence from Republican Party and many industrial business leaders and signed the bill.[33]

Mark Levin:“Some cheer at these proposals, believing that Trump will, as he puts it, ‘Make America Great Again’ (a campaign slogan lifted directly from the Reagan campaign over thirty years ago). Of course, these populist/nationalist/protectionist proclamations and policies are nothing new. The Progressive Republicans a century ago, including Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Herbert Hoover, all embraced them. Even earlier, they were central to the short-lived People’s Party, which was eventually swallowed by the Democrat Party’s progressive movement.” 

In reality, Levin conflates populists, nationalists, and progressives as one political movement. As I had stated previously, the reality was that many progressive Republicans and New Deal Democrats were opposed to the tariffs as a tool to protect and nurture American industry. The Populist Party platform barely mentioned the tariff issue. Many Democrats (including Bourbons/Dixicrats as well as East Coast internationalists) opposed tariffs as tools to develop the American economy. It was President Woodrow Wilson who lowered the import duty rate as a result of the Underwood Tariff. The Federal government under President Wilson captured the lost tariff revenue through the passage of the progressive income tax (Sixteenth Amendment). President Franklin Roosevelt constructed the New Deal, which promoted increased Federal involvement in the economy. However, at the same time, the progressive New Deal advocates slowly deconstructed the tariff-protected economy through passage of the Reciprocal Trade Act of 1934. These efforts were led by Senate Democrats, progressive Republicans, and members of the Roosevelt Administration (e.g. Cordell Hull). Conservative Republicans generally supported the tariff protected economy and a national industrial policy. Once again, Levin is misinforming his listeners with false history, innuendoes, and smears.

In conclusion, Mark Levin and his ilk need to be continuously shamed and exposed as the dishonest, soulless corporate-globalist apologists that they truly are. Their patriotism is limited by their ideological religion of free trade/free market purism. Such an arrangement is problematic for our national security and prosperity. A nation cannot survive in a world of outright enemies (China and Russia) and national economic rivals who utilize the state capitalist model of development. We cannot effectively neutralize Russian and Chinese power through a military buildup where we are dependent on those very same countries for war related materials. We cannot exert meaningful influence on allies who trade with the enemy and export critical goods to the American market. Such dependence decreases our negotiating power by truncating our sovereignty. Commentators have an obligation to their listeners to be truthful when discussing topics of historical interest. Levin’s prevarications are simply evidence of his intellectual dishonesty and fraud. Lastly, the advocates of free enterprise cannot expect people to support the system of economic freedom while their wages are stagnant or falling and their jobs exported overseas or taken by legal or illegal immigrants. Until we as a nation refuse to recognize these salient points, America will continue its slow descent into decline and probable defeat.

  1. Will Rogers, Bryan B. Sterling, Frances N. Sterling. Will Rogers’ World (Rowman & Littlefield, 1993) page 169.
  2. Levin, Mark. “Populism, Nationalism, and Americanism” Conservative Review November 18, 2016 Accessed From: https://www.conservativereview.com/commentary/2016/11/populism-nationalism-and-americanism
  3. “The Great One” was the nickname given to Mark Levin by his adoring followers and fans.
  4. Collins, Mike. “The Decline Of Unions Is A Middle Class Problem” Forbes Magazine March 19, 2015 Accessed From: http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikecollins/2015/03/19/the-decline-of-unions-is-a-middle-class-problem/#573ac6c818be
  5. Joel Kotkin, “The New Left Takes Over American Unions” The American Enterprise magazine February 1999
  6. Quoted in “A Communist View: Building Class Struggle Trade Unions” The Call August 2, 1976 Accessed From: https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-8/ol-tu/politics.htm
  7. Drew Desilver “For most workers, real wages have barely budged for decades” Pew Research October 9, 2014 Accessed From: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/10/09/for-most-workers-real-wages-have-barely-budged-for-decades/
  8. Ravi Batra. The Myth of Free Trade (Touchstone 1996)
  9. Speeches and Addresses of William McKinley, From His Election to Congress to the Present Time Accessed From: https://archive.org/stream/speechesaddresse01mcki/speechesaddresse01mcki_djvu.txt
  10. Republican Party Platform of 1928 June 12, 1928 Accessed From: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29637
  11. The Protectionist Volume 36 1924 page 437.
  12. Andrew Jackson, Sam B. Smith, Harriet Fason Chappell Owsley, Harold D. Moser The Papers of Andrew Jackson 1821-1824 (University of Tennessee Press, 1996) pages 399-400.
  13. Quentin R. Skrabec, Jr. The Fall of an American Rome
  14. Congressman Henry Clay was the plan’s foremost proponent and the first to refer to it as the American System. Senator Henry Clay “In Defense of the American System” February 2, 3, and 6, 1832 Accessed From: http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/generic/Speeches_ClayAmericanSystem.htm
  15. “Protecting American Industry” Digital History 2016 Digital History ID 3527 Accessed From: http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtid=2&psid=3527
  16. Clyde Prestowitz. The Betrayal of American Prosperity (Simon and Schuster 2010) page 11. Prestowitz was a high official in the Reagan era US Trade Representative’s Office.
  17. Republican Party Platform of 1928 June 12, 1928 Accessed From: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29637
  18. Alfred E. Eckes. Opening America’s Market: U.S. Foreign Trade Policy Since 1776 (University of North Carolina Press 1999) page 34.
  19. “President George Washington Expands the Financial System of the United States Government to the First New State” February 20, 1790 Accessed From: https://www.raabcollection.com/presidential-autographs/washington-1790-union
  20. Altridge, Arthur. “The Dye Lobby Dies Hard” The Searchlight Volumes 7-8 1922 page 20.
  21. “The Omaha Platform: Launching the Populist Party” Accessed From: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5361/
  22. Douglas A. Irwin. From Smoot-Hawley to Reciprocal Trade Agreements: Changing the Course of US Trade Policy in the 1930s Working Paper 5895 National Bureau of Economic Research
  23. Robert La Follette. “The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Bill: A Fraud Upon the American People” The Progressive September 26, 2007 http://www.progressive.org/archives/lafollette0929

    The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Bill: A Fraud Upon the American People

  24. “Deadlocks in Tariff Legislation” CQ Researcher Accessed From: http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/document.php?id=cqresrre1929110100
  25. Dobson, John M. Two Centuries of Tariffs: The Background and Emergence of the United States International Trade Commission December 1976 Accessed From: https://www.usitc.gov/publications/332/pub0000.pdf
  26. James K. Libbey. Alben Barkley: A Life in Politics
  27. Joseph Cummins. “What Issue Were Republican Insurgents Angry at President Taft Over?” Accessed From: http://classroom.synonym.com/issue-were-republican-insurgents-angry-president-taft-over-10184.html
  28. “Platform of the Progressive Party” August 7, 1912 Accessed From: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/tr-progressive/
  29. “Industrial Tariffs” Office of the United States Trade Representative Accessed From: https://ustr.gov/issue-areas/industry-manufacturing/industrial-tariffs
  30. Bureau of Economic Analysis National Income and Product Accounts Table Accessed From: http://www.bea.gov/national/nipaweb/TablePrint.asp?FirstYear=1929&LastYear=1938&Freq=Year&SelectedTable=5&ViewSeries=NO&Java=no&MaxValue=103.6&MaxChars=5&Request3Place=N&3Place=N&FromView=YES&SmallFont=Y&Legal=&Land
  31. Peel, George. The War: The Root and Remedy (London 1941)
  32. Douglas A. Irwin. From Smoot-Hawley to Reciprocal Trade Agreements: Changing the Course of US Trade Policy in the 1930s Working Paper 5895 National Bureau of Economic Research
  33. Wyn Derbyshire Dark Realities: America’s Great Depression (Spiramus Press Ltd, 2013) page 89.
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