Ports, trade and jobs

In Steven Solomon’s book “Water: the Epic Struggle for Power, Wealth and Civilization” he notes two of the greatest water decisions that helped make America a global power are the building of the Erie Canal and Panama Canal. Both gave the US the ability to conduct trade more easily. I mention these decisions as many east coast US ports have dug deeper channels to permit larger ships to enter their harbors. And, non-port cities have developed trans-modal distribution facilities to get goods on and off planes, trains and trucks often going to or from ports.

The leaders of ports and these trans-modal facilities have concerns over the tariff wars that are beginning because of the short-sighted decision of the US President. While some industries will see job increases, peripheral and other industries will see job losses. But, the ones who see red flags are those who handle the distribution of goods.

The port leaders are concerned the return on the investment to dig deeper ports may be watered down. But, less trade also means fewer truck drivers, rail workers, dock workers and distribution handlers. This is on top of industries specifically hit by tariffs.

Nick Hanauer, a venture capitalist spoke on a Ted Talk about his frustration that business leaders called themselves job creators. He asked “Do you know who creates jobs? Customers.” It should be noted the first and third Presidents who witnessed the most jobs were Bill Clinton (22.9 million) and Ronald Reagan (16.1 million). Per David Smick, an economist who worked for both, this was in large part due to their emphasis on free trade.

Tariffs hurt the wrong people. They may help some targeted industries, but they end up hurting far more employees than they help.They do hurt business owners, but in the end, they reduce the number of customers. And, fewer customers cause fewer jobs. The math is that simple. Any decision that adds to customers is job accretive, while the converse is also true. And, one thing is certain – we cannot shrink our customer base to greatness.