The protection of the steel industry is as old as the United States.


According to Douglas Irwin, a steelworker left a factory at the end of his job in Bethlehem, pa., in 1947. Employment in the sector is down 80 per cent from its peak 60 years ago.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images.
President trump’s tariffs on imported steel are not the first time the U.S. government has been protected. It’s not a long shot. In fact, the industry’s tariff protection – which politicians often say is an important national interest – can be traced back to the beginning of the republic.
Dartmouth college professor Douglas Owen in his writing “overcome the business: the history of us trade policy” writes, the protection of metal producers began in the 1890 s.
The pioneers of the modern steel industry started in Pennsylvania. Tariffs or taxes on imported horseshoes, nails and rifle barrels protect the fledgling industry from foreign competition.
A century later, politicians are still in the name of protecting the industry.
“There was a man named William ‘pig iron’ kelly,” Owen said. The Pennsylvania representative is a supporter of steel interests. “after the civil war, they have been pushing for higher tariffs in the late 19th century,” the authors said.
Tariffs and other protections for domestic producers have risen and fallen, but the second world war has made them almost extinct. The war reduced steel production in Europe and Japan. But America’s steelmakers are booming, so they don’t need protection after the war.
But the industry failed in the 1970s. Us steel companies have failed to invest in modern equipment, while foreign rivals have used the latest technology to rebuild. The us has lost its technological edge, while cheaper imported steel accounts for nearly a quarter of the domestic market.
Outdated American factories have been shut down, and more than 100,000 steel workers have lost their jobs and destroyed their communities.
Politicians feel their pain, Owen says. “Almost every President has reaffirmed or extended these special import quotas or voluntary export restraints or various additional ways to protect domestic industries from tariffs,” he said.
In the 1980s, industry was disrupted by mini-mills; High-tech factories can melt scrap metal to make steel – but far fewer workers.
Then in the early 1990s, Owen said, the first President bush began to try to phase out protection, and the Clinton administration followed suit. Steel imports surged after the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s.
But the Clinton administration rejected the industry’s request for protection. The government told the industry: “those days are over, you’ve got years of adjustment assistance, so we’re not going to help you.”
But in the 2000 election, bush’s campaign traveled to West Virginia and promised to help steel workers, and his government reenacted special tariffs to help the industry. Politicians have the power to protect steel, says Owen, because historically it has concentrated on politically important states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
The trump trade action could boost steel, aluminium manufacturers and other industries.
“The steel industry is protected not because it saves jobs, because it doesn’t end up like that,” Owen said. “It does save a very politically powerful industry, and history shows that it is very capable of getting politicians to act on their behalf.”
In history, says Owen, the steel unions have also had an impact on politicians.
But he says there is another factor: steel as an indispensable ring of industry. This is a sentiment expressed by President trump when he authorizes the new tariffs. “Absolutely critical,” the President said. “Steel is steel, you have no steel, you have no country.”
Many countries think so. That’s why steel is protected globally. That’s why the new U.S. tariff is reasonable, says Roger Newport, chief executive of AK steel in Ohio.
“It’s not protection,” Newport said. “This ensures a level playing field, and we have long had a trade war with China and other countries, and we have been failing.”
Newport says his company will continue to invest in technology to compete better globally. But Owen says that means jobs could disappear.
“One thing about competition and technological change,” says Owen, “is that it always forces companies to be more efficient.”
The steel industry has responded, he said, “and as a result, the number of hours needed to produce a ton of steel has really fallen in the United States.”
In 1980, ten man-hours were needed to produce one tonne of steel. In two hours today, the steel industry’s employment rate has fallen 80 percent from its peak 60 years ago, Owen said. He said the trump tariffs would not reverse this trend.


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