The Reagan Revolution brought about a new birth of American trade power. But by the time of the 1990s, American trade policy had begun to serve the interests of other nations rather than our own. With the dawn of the 21st century came the rise of China as a new global superpower unlike any threat the United States had ever faced before, and one that due to our naive trade policies, we were ill-equipped to handle.
Robert Lighthizer served as the U.S. Trade Representative during the Trump Administration and is today’s guest on The Kevin Robert’s Show. During his time in the Trump Administration, he worked to shift U.S. trade practices away from the globalist-crafted, America-last policies that had fused our economy with China’s.
Stay tuned for an exciting discussion about the future of U.S. trade policy and what America can do to make sure it remains an independent nation free from the influence of hostile powers.
Robert Lighthizer: ... just sort of a pure notion of free trade doesn’t really conserve anything. It’s not about conservation, it’s about maximizing consumption. So when you think about free trade, if you think the most important thing is the cost of your third television, or do you say to yourself the most important thing is that I live in a community, and all of us together are making America great, we’re all great Americans, and I’ve got hope for you for the future. And if there is some additional cost associated with that in consumer goods, then that’s a price worth paying.
Kevin Roberts: Welcome back to the Kevin Roberts Show. Here we are, having this conversation, the middle part of 2023. It seems like a lot is at stake in this country and in the world, and therefore, as we do each week, our guest this week is someone who has something to say about that. Not just the diagnosis of all of those problems, but also someone who has written a book with a series of solutions. Yes, our good heritage friend, someone who’s become a very close acquaintance of ours here in the last several months, Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, is here to talk not only about this book but also about where we go as a country and also as people who believe in things like trade, whether that trade be free or otherwise. Ambassador Lighthizer, thanks for joining me.
Lighthizer: Kevin, thank you very much for having me. I should say initially that I feel like I sort of grew up with The Heritage Foundation because you’re 50, but for me, I went to work on The Hill in the end of 1978, which is right before you really made your bones. And then I went through the whole Reagan thing, and so it’s a particular pleasure to be here.
Roberts: No, it’s kind of you to say that, it’s kind of you to make time for this, because although you are a modest guy, and genuinely so, as I’ve come to learn, as we’ve gotten to know each other, you’ve made a real mark on American policy, trade policy, economic policy. We were just talking off-camera about our gratitude here at Heritage that you took the time to sit down and write out your thoughts.
And this new book, No Trade is Free, Changing Course, Taking on China and Helping America’s Workers. Very nice cover for those people who are tuning in via video. And we’re going to get into the book, but you might know that one of the customs on this show before we get into policy substance is to ask the question of our guests, how did you begin doing what you’re doing? You just referenced going to The Hill in 1978. What’s Bob Lighthizer’s story.
Lighthizer: So that’s a good question. I am from a small town in Ohio. As I say in there, I went to Georgetown, and much as I liked Ashtabula, I decided to stay in Washington. I worked at a law firm, big law firm, great law firm for five years, and then Senator Robert Dole asked me to be his Staff Director for the Senate Finance Committee. We were in the minority, it was the end of ‘78 and by the way, thought we were always going to be in the minority. It had been 24, 25 years, and an equal amount of time at that point in the House, so we just always felt we would be in the minority. I did that job for a couple of years, and then actually my boss ran for President against Ronald Reagan. I look upon 1980 as one of the great benches of all time, if you think about Reagan and ...
Roberts: It’s really true.
Lighthizer: ... Dole and Herbert Walker Bush and Howard Baker, who people don’t remember. I mean it was like all these world-class characters running for president, and of course, one of them was more world-class than the other. I’ll tell you something funny. Senator Dole used to go around, his basic pitch was he agreed with Reagan, but he wasn’t old. And he used to say afterwards, he would say, “I want all over the country saying if you want a young, younger Ronald Reagan, here I am. And they didn’t want a younger Ronald Reagan, so here I am.” I always thought he was-
Roberts: He has such a great sense of humor.
Lighthizer: Oh, he was fabulous. I heard that from him 25 times and laughed at the 25th time as much as I did the first time. But in any event, so I did that, and then Ronald Reagan came into all of our lives and changed the world, as far as I was concerned. And all of a sudden. I was in the majority, and we did his economic plans, all came through the Senate Finance Committee. It was a great story. It’s not in the book, but that whole story about having Democrats in the House and Republicans in the Senate and Ronald Reagan and getting all that stuff passed, which really made his legacy and turned the country around economically.
And then after doing that for a while, Bill Brock asked me to be Deputy US Trade Representative, and I had worked on ... There have been two great trade negotiations in the last umpteen years. One of them was this one that I talk about during Clinton, the Uruguay Round, which was so horrible. The one before that was the Tokyo round, and I did that as a Staff Director on the Republican, so I had a lot of background in that area.
But Bill Brock offered me the job, and I became deputy USTR and sort of became more and more committed, more and more interested seeing that really we weren’t getting a good deal and that it was basically hurting people, and it was hurting people that I grew up with, and they grew up in towns like mine all over the country. These people were told either they weren’t good workers or their managers were bad or whatever, and the reality is they were victims of bad policy by the federal government. And so I just took that on my shoulders and just kept going along. I might have been the clock that was wrong for all those years, but now it’s my time.
Roberts: It is your time. In case someone in the audience doesn’t know, you go from being Deputy US Trade Representative under President Reagan to many years later being the US Trade Representative under President Trump, which we’ll get into.
Lighthizer: On that, Kevin, my friend’s telling me that I’m the only person they know that took 35 years to get a promotion. It’s not a bad point.
Roberts: No, that’s almost as funny as the Senator Dole line. Well, we will chuckle. There’s plenty to chuckle about, because we woke up with a great fortune of being in the United States. But there’s also plenty that’s changed and changed for the worse. And just on a kind of high level, like a general overview, what changed from the in America from the end of Reagan’s presidency to your, say, the first months that you were in the Trump administration?
Lighthizer: So I mean a lot of things changed, but you mean in my area, things that I care about
Roberts: In your area, economically, in terms of trade.
Lighthizer: So the 1990s, the Clinton years, were really the Dark Ages for trade. They made a difference, and I could take you through, I won’t, it’s in the book the whole history of all of it, because I find it very interesting and how it all fits together. But beginning in the mid ‘90s, we had an aberration. We decided that we had won the Cold War, and that it was the end of history, remember all this kind of crazy talk, and that forever we were just going to grow more and more like a bunch of Switzerlands and have peace and prosperity and happiness. And of course, the only problem with that was human nature. So it was just not, in fact, true.
So in that time, they did three things, and it was Bill Clinton and a bunch of other people who viewed themselves as very, very smart, and he was very, very smart, but the smartest of the ones don’t view themselves that way, and a lot of Republicans. So this was like a bipartisan disaster, but they passed NAFTA, which was clearly a mistake, and then they passed this Uruguay Round, this legislation implementing this last great trade round, which created the WTO.
And then on his way out, literally walking out the door, for reasons that I could only speculate on, he puts together a group and grants permanent most favored nation treatment to China. And the combination of those three things cost millions of Americans their jobs, destroyed thousands of communities, lost 60,000 factories. There were other things going on, but this was the big factor.
Now, we had had trade problems before from time to time and taken action. Reagan was very proactive on trade, very much an economic populist. You had Nixon, you had some other times when people had done things to sort of stick up for America. But it became such a disaster that my own sense is if it wasn’t for how bad those people did in the ‘90s and the consequences for all those people, there never would’ve been a President Trump.
His, I believe, number one issue, his gut issue was always trade. He was a 35-year-old kid. He would talk about trade and how Japan was taking advantage of us, all of which was true, but we kind of operated with it. And then we got to the ‘90s, and we had this trifecta of stupid policy, and the results really were disastrous for two decades for average working people.
Roberts: Well, and people, a lot to key in on there, people, maybe younger members of the audience, would’ve no reason to appreciate the palpable concern that Americans in the 1980s had about the trade deficit with Japan. And that’s when Donald Trump, not yet president obviously, was talking about that, but it seems as if our zealous focus, perhaps rightly, on defeating the Soviet Union once and for all prevented Americans from really being focused on that trade problem.
It’s exacerbated in the ‘90s, and then fast-forward past a couple of other wars, and we get to 2016, when in working class communities, all kinds of communities across the country, not just in particular regions, you see the devastation that’s wrought by the trade policy. To be sure and to your point, you’re very, very careful in your book in terms of analysis, there are other factors at play, but I think the real thing that commends your book to a general audience is you really bring to life the importance of trade policy as it relates to the plight to the everyday American.
Lighthizer: Yeah. Well, I appreciate that, Kevin. I think while the [inaudible 00:10:33] is going on, it probably was the most significant single factor. And a lot of people just had this view that it was fine to be post-industrial, and they were so focused on, “We want the cheapest stuff,” kind of a combination of people that say we want the cheapest stuff with people who are making a lot of money importing. And the combination of that was to promote this philosophy, which had gone haywire, as I say in the ‘90s, and a lot of the opioid addiction and the rot in our communities all across America is a direct result of those stupid decisions made in the 1990s.
Roberts: So thanks for that analysis. And as I mentioned off-camera, we have guests on this podcast who can have whatever view they would like. They don’t have to agree with whatever The Heritage position is on an issue, and certainly there are people inside Heritage and people who are longtime friends of Heritage who consider themselves with the best of intentions. They even put it this way, Ronald Reagan, Free Traders. And one of the objectives that you and I had in having this conversation publicly is for you to be able to talk to them, almost like a coach, not questioning motives, I often have described myself that way, but you make a really persuasive case about now in the 2020s, what’s challenging about that position? What would you say to them?
Lighthizer: Well, I would say first of all, Ronald Reagan talked about free trade for sure. When Ronald Reagan left office, one libertarian operation here in town that I won’t mention said he was the most protectious president since Hoover. They hated Ronald Reagan on trade, hated him. Now they’ll say Ronald Reagan was a free trader. No, no, no. Ronald Reagan, when he saw a crisis, lookit, it would be great if you did nothing worked, but if you have problems you have to resolve him.
When he saw a huge crisis with automobiles coming in from Japan, he took action and got what was then called a voluntary retrade agreement. He just forced him to stop. He negotiated, I did it for him, but at his request, scores agreements to stop steel from coming in, because it was wiping us out. We were getting wiped out on semiconductors. He put in place a semiconductor plan, and I could go on and on and on. There’s the famous motorcycles with Harley Davidson. There was a lot of things. When Ronald Reagan had a economic problem that he thought was significant, he acted to solve the problem, and in the trade area, it was mostly through stopping imports. That is what he did.
Now, so you say what’s the great ... The great plan is to build up the economy, which he did, reduce regulation, which he did, which we all agree with, but also to have a sane trade policy, one that works for workers, not for importers and maximizing global corporations’ profits. Ronald Reagan wasn’t motivated by that. He was also, very much like President Trump, motivated by this desire to help the working people.
And I also say that this notion, just philosophically, you say what is a conservative? Everybody’s got their own ideas. One of the great things about conservatism, you talk to some people, you’re like, “What? You’re a conservative?” But to me, at its essence, it’s conserving values, it’s conserving institutions that are serving the country. That is what we believe. And the sort of a pure notion of free trade doesn’t really conserve anything. It’s not about conservation, it’s about maximizing consumption, and maximizing consumption is really materialism. It’s not a values-oriented philosophy.
So when you think about free trade, if you think the most important thing is the cost of your third television, or do you say to yourself the most important thing is that I live in the community of parents who stay married and raise their kids and stay off of drugs, and where the kids say, “My dad is a foreman at the blah blah factory,” and they say it with pride. And the parents look upon their kids and say, “We’re doing little league, we’re part of the community, and all of us together are making America great. We’re all great Americans, and I’ve got hope for you for the future.”
I always say it’s a world where children are proud of their parents for working, that’s what they’re proud of them for, and the parents are hopeful for the kids. That is the essence of the philosophy that I espouse, and if there is some additional cost associated with that in consumer goods, then that’s a price worth paying.
Roberts: Well said. In fact, often in conversations internally as we’re developing policy papers or conversations externally, I’ll remind people free trade is not or ought not be an end unto itself. It ought to be an idea to the extent it’s even possible, I’m not sure that it is anymore, that leads us to greater goods, like what you’re describing, healthy communities.
And as I traveled more around the country, and as I mentioned to you was traveling in Western Europe last week, I challenged fellow conservatives, and in the UK in particular, who talking about being free trade, I said, “Well, your country doesn’t exhibit that. The United States doesn’t exhibit that. China certainly doesn’t exhibit that. How about we talk about the larger picture, of which trade is a vital part,” but obviously communities and a host of other factors are crucial.
All of that to say, actually I think this is page one of your book. I want to read this passage for our audience. You’re going in to see president-elect Trump in 2016, and this is what you write. “I knew that what I was being offered was not just a job, it was the chance to fight a battle that I had been preparing for my whole life, the battle to build trade policy that supports a society in which American workers, including those without college educations, can build better lives for themselves and their families through the stable well-paying jobs that no healthy country can do without.” Did you have the opportunity to do work on that?
Lighthizer: Yeah, I did. I think that’s what we accomplished. I absolutely think that’s what we accomplished. That was always our focus. I don’t think there’s any other area in his presidency where he took the perceived wisdom, turned it 100% on its head, and succeeded. In the final analysis, if you look at who did we convince? What did we do? We took on China, we put tariffs on $370 billion of their stuff. People said the world would blow up if you do that. It’s just like the end of the world. The stock market would go to zero. I mean we had all this, every single lobbyist in town, that’s a slight exaggeration, but a lot of them, but the two were on my side, I’ll almost set aside, were on the other side, all the money was on the other side.
We renegotiated that horrible NAFTA deal and in the final analysis got 90% of the Democrats and Republicans to vote for it. I was editorialized against by the Wall Street Journal on 27 occasions as a result of that by name. “Oh, my God. Look at what this guy’s doing.” And it was the right thing, and everyone voted for it.
Roberts: Has the Journal ever conceded that you might’ve been even slightly right?
Lighthizer: No, no, no, they don’t. Listen, that day won’t come, right? Even when there’s some fact that sort of demonstrates that there’s a way, they have this, say, “Wow, but it wasn’t ...” So no, the answer is no. I’m not looking forward to that.
Roberts: So as we look ahead to the remainder of this decade and beyond, what are the biggest challenges as it relates to trade for the everyday American? It might be a country like China, it might be policy internally. I’m looking for the answer to that proverbial magic wand question that you get the magic wand and you get to change two or three things to improve the lot of everyday Americans within the realm of trade. What are those?
Lighthizer: So for me, there’s two things. One, we have to strategically decouple from China. China is an adversary, and they’re probably the strongest adversary we have ever faced in the United States as a country. Closest to us economic size, overtaking us in some areas in technology, larger population, different philosophy, one that hates our philosophy, hates the notion of freedom and all the things that we stand for, and very much wants to be number one in the world. So we have to stop transferring hundreds of billions of dollars in trade deficits and technology and the like to them every year. And if you have a moment, we ought to talk about that at some point, because I think that is so important. It is such a stupid policy and so easy to correct.
And then the other thing that we have to do is we have to realize that trade deficits are bad. This economic notion that, well, the trade deficit is just the other side of the capital count and the money all comes back to the United States is just not accurate. It might be in two other countries, X and Y, but it’s not with respect to the United States. Our currency never adjusts. Nobody of the classic economists would’ve thought it was possible to run decades of hundreds of trillions of dollars a year in trade deficits. It was just not possible. And now literally, we’re over a trillion. So no one would’ve said that was possible.
We have to do something, and I think it means tariffs. There are probably three ways you can try to get back to balanced trade. One of them was recommended years ago by Warren Buffet in an article where he just says in order to import, you need an export certificate to create a market, and you get to balance. And obviously, all these things you have to phase in. Another is you put in place a capital access fee, so that when the dollars come back, they don’t get to buy a dollar with a dollar, they only get to buy whatever the notion is, 80 cents worth of stuff, and that’ll get you to balance. And the third for me is tariffs.
Now, I would stand up and applaud for any of them, but I think tariffs are easier. They’re understood, you can adjust them. The objective would not be to get a big surplus. The objective would be to stop transferring the wealth of America overseas. And when I say the wealth of America, the trade deficits do come back, but they come back in the form of foreign interests buying US assets, equities, debt, and real estate. So we are basically transferring our wealth overseas in return for consumer goods, and at the same time costing us our jobs and all the other good things that we talk about, the intrinsic things that come with work.
So to me the two things are one, you have to strategically decouple with China and do it fast. And then second, I think you have to get to balance trade. We could talk about fair trade, that’s good, but that’s a little bit like whack-a-mole. I’m accusing you of this or that. If a country like China or Germany runs hundreds of billions of dollars worth of surpluses year after year, they are doing something that is in and of itself protectionist and that we have to correct for.
Roberts: So just homing in on a balance of trade rather than worrying about the inexact science of fair trade seems to be the simplest policy solution.
Lighthizer: For sure, it’s true, and you start with the proposition that if you are running surpluses for years, you are a protectionist by definition. It’s your labor system, it’s your banking system. You’re somehow taking assets away from your consumers and giving them to your producers and then taking that excess and basically having somebody buy it. Well, the only people that buy it in the final analysis is ironic are sort of Anglo-Saxon countries. So you end up it’s like 80% of the global surplus is the United States, which is enormous, but also the UK, Canada and Australia, and a little bit of the size of this economy would be New Zealand, but it also has a very tiny economy.
So if what you do is you say, “I’m going to find everything you do wrong and try to put a bandaid on it,” they can come up with new things a heck of a lot faster than I can unpeel bandaids. And that’s the fundamental problem with this notion of free but fair. The fair part is not about coming up with every little distortion that the mind of a bureaucrat and some other country come up with. The fair part is balance, and that’s why I just jumped to balance. We have to think about this. If we have balanced trade, then everyone benefits.
Roberts: So you spend, rightly, I would argue, a big section of your book or a lot of pages, I should say, on China, and you mentioned in your previous response the importance of technology. Let’s return to that point. And for our audience, who knows there’s a bit of an issue there, how do we correct this problem?
Lighthizer: So first of all, it is really, really important, because the technology is going to, in many ways dictate what we do in the future. I take the position that we have to disentangle our technology. Now how do we do that? You do that one, tariffs in and of themselves will do it, because US companies and western companies, technology companies cannot exist without access to our market. So if we say, “If you want to be in our market, then here’s the constriction we have with respect to technology with China. If their technology is in it,” and I would say you do this once again over time, this doesn’t mean you do it in five minutes, “if their technology is in it, then you’re not coming to our market.” That in and of itself will change the way people do it. Obviously, you also have to have export controls, and that was really started by President Reagan and Wilber Ross, who were the first people to do it, and continued by the current administration to their credit.
So you have to stop the export of technology, you have got to stop import of technology that has their technology in it. I think you also have to have investment restrictions going out and investment restrictions coming in. So let me just give you one out of the newspaper today, Moderna. Moderna, this is not in the book, of course, announced it’s got this new deal, apparently didn’t announce it, but it’s been reported, it has this new deal with China. So you say, “All right.”
Moderna is this very technology-oriented company that developed the vaccine. In 2019, their market cap was $8 billion. All right? Their market cap now is $48 or $50 billion. Now what happened in those three years? We gave them a lot of money, and they developed a vaccine, and they have a particular technology, this mRNA technology that helps them in that area. So what are they doing with the technology that they developed, not entirely, but with our grants in the United States, plus the transfer of wealth created by the vaccine, which by the way came from China. They’re taking that now and going to China.
I mean you say to yourself, that shouldn’t be permitted. You should have a restriction on that. You should say, “No, you can’t do that. So I would have outgoing investment restrictions, at least some reasonable sense. You ought to at least treat something like that the way you treat arms sales. It was at least as important as arms sales.
Roberts: It’s egregious.
Lighthizer: It’s literally that bad. So you have to stop the investment coming in or regulate it seriously, largely restricted, going out, close your own market over a period of time, and then stop the export of technology. So if you do those things, you will see the United States, hopefully with its allies, developing a kind of technology which will be useful for us. And I might say what I am articulating here, this kind of America First, if you want, technology, if you want, is exactly what China’s doing in China. They’re trying not to rely on us. They’re trying to get control, to dominate all the inputs that are needed for this kind of technology. They’re not letting nobody invest. You think a Chinese healthcare company like that could invest in, put their plant in the United States? Not a chance.
So the investment going in and of China is in their interest, the technology they want to go and become not dependent in any way on the United States. And the export controls go without saying. Of course you can’t export technology from China. So what I’m really saying is if you’re in a Cold War with someone, and I believe we are, at a minimum, you ought to do what they’re doing to protect yourself.
Roberts: It’s just common sense. On a general level, years ago, people say, as they started warming to this idea of confronting China in terms of economic policy, trade policy, there were warnings by some Americans that if we were to go down that path, that there would be certain Americans harmed, like we often heard about soybean farmers, because the Chinese would retaliate. What’s been the reaction of different Americans in different segments of the economy as the country thankfully warmed the idea that we do have to confront this adversary?
Lighthizer: Well, there still are some Americans who are being harmed, and there are these people that live in New York or California and have $1.2 billion in their bank account and in their assets, and they want to get to $2.2 billion, and they’re probably being adversely affected. When we first took on China, for sure, they retaliated, and it was soybeans that you would get. Soybeans is the biggest crop, and we are obviously a nation that exports of agriculture crops are very, very important to us. Although I would say, interestingly, we’re probably the first time in our history a net importer of food now, just to sort of go to the broader point about bad trade policy.
But for sure, they did take actions against the soybean farmers. I would say this, first of all, President Trump put in place a program to offset the losses for them. But there were overall no real losses in sales, because what happened, and this is what happened in the short what had to happen, is the Brazilian soybeans went to China, they still needed the Brazilian soybeans, and Brazil had largely sold theirs to Europe, so we sold ours to Europe. So the prices, I’m not saying the price were all the same and everything, but the fact is that the market somehow works itself out.
The other thing I always point out is that if you say who are the most patriotic Americans, if it’s not the farmers, I don’t know who it is. So the farmers were like, “Yeah, we had take on China. Are you crazy?” And the reality is patriots saw where we’re going. There is this odd notion, you have these people out there, Kevin, who say, “I understand that China is an existential threat, like the Soviet Union was or like Nazi Germany was or whoever you want to go through. Okay, fine. But I don’t want to do anything economically.” And you say, “Well, then what do you want to do?” “So I want to build out the army.” I’m thinking, “So you want to prepare for a military confrontation,” which I certainly believe we have to be prepared for, “but not do anything on the economic side. How does that make any bloody sense at all?”
Roberts: I hear that a lot.
Lighthizer: Yeah. So you can think of it as there’s two things, military confrontation, not military confrontation, economic confrontation, not economic confrontation. So you’ve got four possibilities. You could do neither, in which case you’ve just surrendered. You could do both, and if you have a military, for sure, you’re going to have an economic, or you could prepare for the military one, but take the economic one, which would be my position. But all the smart people say, “No, no, no, no. Do the military, but don’t do the economic.” If you sort of go through the four squares, you think, “Well, that’s the least sensible approach.” But for whatever reason, you have a lot of people who are there.
And other people will say, “Well, we can’t.” And I would say, “Well, if you agree that we have this confrontation and that it’s existential, I mean it literally is existential, if you say we can’t do anything, what you were saying is just we’re doomed? Is that the position you take?”
Roberts: That’s a path that I don’t want to go down, here.
Lighthizer: No, I don’t think we’re doomed at all, but I do think ... The epigram, where I say failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be failure. That’s the key.
Roberts: One component of that, or a couple components of that, might be opportunities in the world that we’ve not seen opportunities with particular countries or a particular approach to a certain set of countries. What’s that side of the equation that maybe America’s fixation with “free trade” has prevented us from seeing,
Lighthizer: Well, first, if we’re looking for opportunities out there ...
Roberts: Mainly to offset the trade with China [inaudible 00:33:03]
Lighthizer: So one of the things, in the first place, remember I want balanced trade, period, stop. I don’t want a deficit with anyone, but it is certainly my view that we are relatively better off trading with Mexico than we are with China, for sure. Because this is a people that there are a lot of Americans of Mexican extraction, they’re on our border, they have their own problems.
Roberts: Makes total sense.
Lighthizer: And then the other one that jumps to mind in this kind of equation is India. Now, India is a protectionist country, it’s a developing country, it has a lot of problems, but it’s got a lot of really smart people, and they are naturally never going to be on China’s side, because they have a border, they have a history. So they are a natural ally of ours, and whether we can actually get to where we do something, we’ll see.
Now, I always have to say, when I talk about this, I don’t want to, in the case of India or anyone else, transfer any of my wealth to them. In other words, I don’t want to make us poor. There’s this kind of notion that came up in the TPP that, “Well, if we just give people enough of a trade surplus, well, they’ll like us.” I’m not a buyer of that, but for certain, it’s a better substitution to have stuff coming from India than it is from China, from the Indian point of view, but primarily from the American point of view.
Roberts: Toward the end of your book, you write this wonderful paragraph, which I’ll read. “Americans need international trade. There are efficiencies that come from deploying our resources in the most productive way and having other countries do the same thing. We need trade, however, much less than other countries do. We have an enormous economy, and we can produce most of what we need. Trade is good, more trade is better, fair trade is essential, but balanced trade is imperative. And going forward, we really need smart trade. We owe as much to our workers, farmers, and businesses.”
Do you think that whoever the next conservative president is, Heritage can’t a dog in that fight, whoever he or she is, that they will come into office hopefully sooner rather than later with that mindset and that the conservative movement is prepared to support him or her in that?
Lighthizer: That certainly is my hope. I look at the candidates, and I’m not going to go through them, it’s inappropriate here, but there are some that I don’t think get it at all, that just aren’t. There are some that I would identify as globalists. And then there are some that I think get it entirely right. And then among the ones who get it entirely, there’s always the question, will they actually be able to pull it off? And almost all of them, whether they’re globalists or not, are pretty gutsy, pretty tough. It’s a pretty tough crowd that we got up here.
Roberts: It is.
Lighthizer: I see that as a very, very positive thing. None of them are like you’d think, “He’s a wimp. I could walk over him.” They’re all pretty tough cookies. But some of them I do not believe, probably in a public debate, none of them would disagree with what I said, but I think in their heart there’s a number of them that are still stuck in the old free trade, most important thing is the price of that third color television in the basement, and that if you end up having a few million people on the unemployment line, then that’s the market. There are still some of them that are in that category.
But I am hopeful that the new one will come in, and then they’ll have that view. And that’s why I wrote the book. They have no excuses. There’s no excuses, Kevin, for not knowing everything you need to know, right? It’s all right there. I actually had a chapter on that I decided people needed to know about history of China, so I wrote a chapter, 38 or 40 pages, and the editor said, “Listen, people are not going to want to read this.” And I thought, “God, are you kidding? Who doesn’t want the history chapter of 30 page, 40 pages, right? That’s all you need to know.” But he won, and so there’s no history of China in there. But other than that, there’s everything you need to know.
Roberts: No, there really is. As I told you, I read the book on the plane ride back from Western Europe late last week, and I’m not just saying this because you’re sitting here, it’s really good. And for anyone in the audience, who maybe they’re a few specialists in trade, they would love it, but really, your approach was for a general audience to appreciate this. Someone who reads this will walk away a lot more informed.
And I’ll also say, in spite of the fact that you pull no punches, I think you walk away from this as the reader optimistic that in fact there’s a way out of this, in spite of some really serious mistakes that both the political left and the political right have made over the last few decades. All of that to say to the proverbial last question that I ask each guest, and that is, in spite of all the problems facing America, why did you wake up hopeful this morning about the American future?
Lighthizer: So first of all, you’re assuming that I did.
Roberts: I am assuming that.
Lighthizer: Am I an optimist? I’d like to be.
Roberts: So you tried to wake up hopeful?
Lighthizer: Yeah, I try. I’m not a natural optimist, but I must say I admire natural optimists. They tell you the most important thing you can give your kids is optimism. Nothing else matters. My parents tried. But having said that, the reason to be optimistic is that we are exactly one election away from being able to start sorting this out. We know how to do it. This is not a mystery, it’s not the kind of a crisis where you don’t know the answer. For sure, we know the answer in trade, but we know the answer in a lot of other areas too. And the things that are most troubling about our country are things that are only supported by a small minority of the people in the country. So that a president who gets in there and wins, and it takes one election, that man or woman can put in place a program that would be wildly popular, except by this one’s Mother.
Roberts: Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, thanks for joining me.
Lighthizer: Thank you very much for having me.
Roberts: I look forward to you continuing to have influence over trade and economic policy in this country.
Roberts: Those of you who tune in, week in and week out, know that this was a really important conversation, and if you just tuned in for this episode, we hope to have you back. If you’ve not yet bought the book from Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, No Trade is Free, be sure and go do that. You’ll walk away more informed and more hopeful. Until next time, take care.