Why do some Americans behave like crybabies when things don’t go their way?
The latest example is their whining about Canada’s West Coast port in Prince Rupert. Americans are taking steps to impose hefty costs on containers landed in Prince Rupert and shipped overland to the U.S. on the grounds that the port’s construction was supported by government.
What a phoney complaint. Both countries use public funds to invest in infrastructure, including ports, airports and highways.
Rather, this should be seen as yet another example of the American propensity to blame foreigners for their problems.
In this latest case, Americans also claim that because they impose a tax to cover port dredging costs and Prince Rupert doesn’t means there is a nefarious Canadian plot to steal businesses away from U.S. ports.
It’s a bit like the softwood lumber dispute. Because Canada manages its forests differently than the U.S., then that’s “unfair” if it means our lumber is cheaper.
The reality is that Prince Rupert is much closer to Asia than U.S. West Coast ports, by three to four shipping days. So that’s a big cost advantage. But that’s a simple matter of geography. It also has efficient rail connections to deliver cargoes into the heart of the U.S. That’s the result of smart rail industry investment.
This latest “Blame Canada” excuse for U.S. difficulties is not surprising — but the U.S. blame game, directed not just at Canada but at China, India, Mexico and Brazil for example, may get much worse as the U.S. tries to grapple with its self-inflicted wounds, with a political system that has become dysfunctional, an economy plagued by high unemployment and an unsustainable fiscal situation.
Of course, Americans have some legitimate trade grievances, as do most countries, including Canada. But as Fred Bergsten, a former senior U.S. Treasury official and in recent years president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington acknowledged recently, the U.S. itself has made many mistakes.
“Our primary and secondary education system is no longer qualifying our people to succeed in a highly competitive global economy,” he said recently.
Likewise, “we do not save enough as a nation to finance adequate levels of investment and we therefore borrow $500 billion annually from the rest of the world. Our infrastructure is falling behind world-class standards and, in many cases, is literally crumbling. Our governmental support for technological innovation, which has been critically important for some of the most important advances of the past half century, is lagging.”
But these fundamental U.S. problems, along with the fiscal mess and housing market collapse, cannot be blamed on other countries.
It is the failure of Americans to run their own affairs competently that is at the root of the American malaise today.
The unwillingness of Americans to pay for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with higher taxes and instead introducing huge tax cuts, for example, cannot be blamed on Canada or China or any other country.
This, as we have seen, doesn’t deter Americans from lashing out at the rest of the world. It is always easier to blame someone else, as Bergsten does, claiming, in a burst of hyperbole, that China’s currency policy is “by far the largest protectionist measure adopted by any country since the Second World War — and probably in all of history.”
While China’s currency policy poses problems, this is an absurd statement.
In fact, U.S. economic mismanagement has almost certainly imposed bigger costs on the rest of the world in recent decades.
The nation’s unwillingness to pay for the Vietnam War with higher taxes plunged the entire world into the worst bout of inflation in decades and set the stage for a decade of stagflation.
Its failure to properly regulate its financial system, including rating agencies, and mortgage markets plunged the world into the 2008-09 economic crisis, costing millions of people their jobs and savings.
Governments were forced to go deeply into debt to counter the crisis and it will take years to restore financial health.
Canadians, of course, appreciate the many benefits of close ties with our neighbour to the south, and sympathize with their current difficulties.
But if the U.S. wants to restore its economic and political health, it should correct its self-inflicted mistakes rather than lashing out, like a wounded animal, to those who happen to be near it.
Prince Rupert is not to blame for what’s gone wrong in the U.S.
Economist David Crane is a syndicated Toronto Star columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.