So, the Koch brothers, and in particular Charles Koch, have declared war on President Trump’s efforts to redress the trade imbalances that the United States has tolerated for too many years.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand why we tolerated them for a long while.
After WWII we were literally the last one standing on the battlefield in economic terms. All the major economies of the world were in shambles, except ours. When our soldiers returned home, we had the wherewithal to put them to work. We had an economy that generated the surplus revenues needed to help educate and retrain those with the will to improve their prospects.
A few people still remember the post-war Marshall Plan we devised to help European countries rebuild. They may also remember that it wasn’t a one-way street.
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We gave the slaughtered European economies leeway to disinter themselves. We breathed life into their moribund bodies with some cash up-front, in various forms. But as they returned to life, we also made tons of money selling them what they needed to achieve this resurrection. We sold them the hardware and consumer goods they needed to achieve their goal. We also supplied their people with consumer goods to keep up their morale as they did so.
IT was by no means pure altruism. The first thing to remember is we had—and could have worked ruthlessly to keep—a monopoly on the thunderbolts that haunted Napoleon’s vast dreams of conquest. I can think of no other nation in history that resisted the temptation to extend the domination promised by lesser versions of such an advantage. We seriously declined the temptation of the greatest in human history.
We offered help to all who were willing to work with us, including our erstwhile, defeated foes. Instead of trying to keep Japan and Europe in our thrall, we encouraged the establishment of international associations, including, of course, the UN.
More tellingly, we encouraged the Europeans to form an economic union amongst themselves that would eventually produce the easy flow of goods and services that allowed the people of the United States to generate prosperity by trading first amongst themselves. In a war, we encouraged them to follow an economic model that would eventually make them less dependent on our help, but also less immediately dependent on our goods and services.
We co-operated with them to form international associations in which they had the formal prerogatives of self-respecting, independent nations. We encouraged and helped them to build the economic institutions needed to exercise those prerogatives.
Nothing we did was motivated by what some would regard as pure altruism.
By and large, the Christian moral ethos of America regards such purity with suspicion. We believe in seeking outcomes that are good on the whole, which ought obviously to include ourselves. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a maxim that assumes reasonable self-interest as a moral standard.
This is consistent with the true meaning of charity, which is love in action. Christ’s love called people to serve and even sacrifice for the good of others.
But Christ himself did not despise the services, and even the honors, love induces people to perform. As he was willing to give, so he was willing to receive. He sent his disciples to ask for help, when needed, from those whose loving devotion or respect disposed them to offer it. He accepted the tearful homage of the woman who bathed his feet in tears and wiped them with her tresses. He saw due regard for justice at the heart of love because God never has to love one at the expense of another. His infinite capacity for grace allows Him to remember all who are willing to remember Him.
This is the wholesome quality of Christian love the vicious ideologist of selfish, hedonistic sexuality want us to ignore. God’s being informs true love, which therefore never forgets the whole. Since God is all in all, in that forgetting would imply that being itself loses itself in being—the ultimate self-contradiction.
Hence, God first revealed the win-win situation that ought to result from human commerce of any kind if and when it reflects His justly loving, wholesomely comprehensive Spirit. In human terms, this often means giving in one way while gaining in another. Taking in present terms what one will also have to give in terms the future reveals.
It was justly loving that, in the give and take in the aftermath of WWII, the United States gave sustenance to rebuild the wasted economies of the world and took sustenance as they reaped the benefits of that giving.
But here’s the rub, as Shakespeare’s Hamlet says: The success of the EU resulted in a situation where the EU is the major trading partner of most countries in Europe. Their neighbors have become the major trading partners of other countries in the world. The trade deficits that once generated revenue for us from abroad now produce a situation in which other countries gain revenue from selling to us that no longer returns to us in trade to the same degree it once did. America’s consumption of foreign goods and service continues to fuel other economies, but their consumption of our goods falls short of refilling our tank proportionately.
I think this is why the question of NATO dues has cast a longer shadow than it once did. But since NATO welcomed countries formerly in thrall to the now defunct USSR, those countries are in a rebuilding mode, as Western Europe was the 1950s. But their major trading partner is now the EU, not the United States. We complain about the dues, but the change that shortchanges us is the success of the economic union we encouraged Europe to build. President Trump complains about NATO dues. But I think he really seeks (and seems to be getting) a response that redresses the trade imbalance—and that makes powerful sense.
As for Charles Koch’s complaints, he needs a lesson in the Golden Rule. He has made billions selling goods made in facilities overseas back into the U.S. market. He should understand that it’s right and just for America’s workers, and our body politic in general, to demand a more even trade. Now that some other countries are generating surplus revenues from sales we used to make, it is just for our representatives in government to insist they spend a portion of that surplus shopping in our store, as it were.
To that end, we need to reach agreements that reflect the wholesome spirit in which we seek no more advantage than what is required to fuel the tank of U.S. consumption that still makes a vital contribution to the economic prospects of practically every nation on earth. When and if we can no longer sustain that contribution, that fall, like the fall of Babylon in Revelation, will bring grief to “the merchants of the earth … grown rich from the power of her luxurious living” (Revelation 18:3).
Of course, more balance trade does nothing to address the “passion for prostituted, hedonistic sexuality” that was truly decisive in Babylon’s fate. But it may buy the United States some time in which to wrestle with our soul to bring that passion once again within the wholesome boundaries of God’s previsional love.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.