When we kids asked our mother which of us were her favorite child, she didn’t tell the truth — me, obviously, I knew in my heart.
Rather she would lie, spreading her hand wide, wiggling her fingers and asking which finger she loved most. They must teach that ruse in Mom School, though it doesn’t make sense: Who wouldn’t prefer their index finger over their pinkie?
But we bought it; we were kids.
The government pretends to take that same impartial attitude when it comes to American industries. All are valued; how could it be otherwise?
But it is otherwise. Like the barnyard critters in “Animal Farm,” all are equal, but some are more equal than others. To see the result of this favoritism all you have to do is go to 4656 W. Kinzie St. and survey the weedy expanse east of Cicero Avenue.
The largest candy factory in the world used to be there. For almost a hundred years, the E.J. Brach plant had thousands of employees — over 4,000 at its peak — turning out millions of pounds of Chocolate Stars and Jelly Nougats, Candy Corn and Conversation Hearts, and my favorite, Sundaes Neapolitan Coconut, those sticky rectangles of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.
All gone, a shadow on a map — the ghost plant sketched by a few streets that mysteriously vanish, such as Kenton north of Kinzie. The Brach factory closed down in 2003, thanks largely to congressional efforts to prop up the sugar industry, which is big in places like Minnesota (sugar beets) and Florida (sugar cane) but not so big in Illinois. Sugar in the United States costs two to four times as much as in the rest of the world, thanks to the U.S. government.
So Brach is gone. (You can see part of the factory being blown up as Gotham Hospital in “The Dark Knight.”) Wrigley exiled chewing gum production to Mexico and China in 2005.
The former Candy Capital of the World retains a few factories.
This all came flooding back Thursday when President Business Genius blurted out that he was going to slap imported metal with tariffs, 25 percent for steel and 10 percent for aluminum.
Good for what’s left of the American steel and aluminum industries. Not so good for all the companies that use steel and aluminum, a number headquartered in Chicago.
MillerCoors, which goes through a lot of aluminum cans, took to President Art of the Deal’s favorite medium, Twitter, to protest: “American workers and American consumers will suffer as a result of this misguided tariff.” Boeing, folding aluminum into airplanes, saw its shares fall 3.5 percent. Shares of Peoria-based Caterpillar, jamming steel into those bulldozers, fell 2.5 percent.
All part of a general stock market swoon, prompting even reliable supporters of President Whim to break ranks.
MillerCoors statement: We are disappointed with President Trump’s announcement of a 10% tariff on aluminum. While we won’t know the details for a week, the Department of Defense recently reported that aluminum does not cause any national security issues. (1/3)— MillerCoors (@MillerCoors) March 1, 2018
We buy as much domestic can sheet aluminum as is available, however, there simply isn’t enough supply to satisfy the demands of American beverage makers like us. American workers and American consumers will suffer as a result of— MillerCoors (@MillerCoors) March 1, 2018
this misguided tariff. (3/3)
“Donald Trump made the biggest policy blunder of his Presidency,” The Wall Street Journal opined, which is really sayin’ something. “This tax increase will punish American workers, invite retaliation that will harm U.S. exports, divide his political coalition at home, anger allies abroad, and undermine his tax and regulatory reforms. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.7% on the news, as investors absorbed the self-inflicted folly.”
Expect that retaliation ASAP. Canada, our top steel trading partner, exporting $5 billion worth of the metal into the U.S. last year, howled and promised payback. The European Union president promised to hit back at such iconic American brands as Harley-Davidson and Levi’s.
Of course, President Second Thoughts might still not do it. Because with him, you just never know. He’ll deny he ever said it and blame others. But right now the world is reacting as if it believes him, and American consumers should expect to pay more for anything with metal in it and to sell less overseas. More jobs in steel plants. Fewer everywhere else, maybe at Ford’s steel-gobbling Torrence Avenue plant, which employs 4,000, for now. A 2006 Department of Commerce study found that for every sugar industry job saved by tariffs, three candy jobs were lost.
We haven’t begun considering harm to the global economy. Returning to my mother’s metaphorical hand, Trump has picked a finger to display to both American consumers and our world trading partners. The middle finger.