Gov. Mike Parson gets the facts wrong with happy talk about tariffs that hurt Missouri

Missouri Gov. Parson outlines priorities in State of the State address

Missouri Governor Mike Parson outlined his priorities in his State of the State address Wednesday afternoon in Jefferson City.
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Missouri Governor Mike Parson outlined his priorities in his State of the State address Wednesday afternoon in Jefferson City.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is not at all worried about the impact of the U.S. trade war with China on farmers in our state. Or so he said in an interview with NPR.

In what sounded like an attempt to mollify the conservatives who’ve sometimes seen Parson as too moderate, he glued himself to President Donald Trump’s tariffs and trade policy, and even suggested that nothing could dim his enthusiasm for them.

“I think he’s on the right track,” Parson said, though that’s not to say “it doesn’t come with some sacrifice.” Asked if there might ever be a “breaking point” at which that sacrifice would become too heavy to bear, he said, “Honestly, we have to make sure we give the president latitude to make these agreements. Long-term, these are major issues. It simply can’t be done in a few months, or even a year or two, and we’re going to stand behind that, and as long as you can pay the bills, as long as you can make ends meet.”

Maybe he’s right on the politics, ahead of next year’s governor’s race. Very likely he’s right that this trade war isn’t going to be over anytime soon. But Parson is wrong on the facts. And on the insouciance, real or feigned.

In the interview, he led off with this blooper: “Number one,” he told NPR’s Nicole King, “agriculture is our number one industry in our state,” so we just have to “let the president do what he’s doing and stand up to China.”

Agriculture is not our top industry. Manufacturing accounts for 13% of the gross state product, according to the Missouri Department of Economic Development, followed by government, real estate and health care. Agriculture accounts for 2% of our gross state product, or $5.2 billion of our $280 billion economy. Even if you include all of agribusiness, that’s still only 5.4% of the GDP, or $15.2 billion.

It is an important sector of our economy, though, and one these tariffs are damaging, to the detriment of us all.

That’s why even Trump loyalist Charles Grassley, the Iowa senator who is himself a farmer, too, has spoken out against the tariffs. “I’m disappointed by the news of additional tariffs out of Beijing and here in Washington,” he said. “Both countries are going to be hurt.”

His Republican colleague Pat Toomey, of Pennsylvania, correctly said it’s Americans who are already paying the price for the president’s policies. And he, among other Republicans, said “handouts” to farmers would boost the debt but wouldn’t change anything.

The price of soybeans, pork and cotton are all down. JP Morgan has warned that the agriculture sector is “rapidly deteriorating.”

All consumers are already being hit: Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, told the Financial Times that, “The tariffs are a stealth tax on American businesses and consumers.”

And researchers from the New York Fed, Princeton University and Columbia University have found that the “full incidence” of the tariffs has so far fallen on American consumers.

A report from the consulting firm Trade Partnership Worldwide estimates that the average American family of four will lose $770 a year if the tariffs stay as they are now, and $2,300 a year if Trump does, as he’s threatened, impose a 25 percent tariff on all Chinese goods. The report also estimated that if sales decline as expected, the U.S. will lose some 2.2 million jobs.

Even Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, said on “Fox News Sunday” that both Chinese and American consumers and businesses will be hurt: “In fact, both sides will pay. Both sides will suffer on this.”

And not only Americans and Chinese, as supply chains are disrupted and demand suppressed. The International Monetary Fund is warning that what Trump calls this “little squabble” could slow growth globally. So much winning?

Trump says “trade wars are easy to win,” but they’re not.

In Missouri, our unfazed governor remains hopeful. “You have to have confidence it’s going to pay off in the end,” with an advantageous trade deal, Parson said, “and I think this will. We’ve got to understand that this is a tough negotiation. We’ve got a president of the United States that’s probably nobody better to do these negotiations than him, and at the end of the day, I think he’s going to win. I think he’s going to take care of the farmers.”

From nuclear talks with North Korea to ratification of the new NAFTA to the “big, beautiful wall” Mexico was going to build to repealing Obamacare, we’ve seen no evidence that Trump is the master negotiator he’s passed himself off as.

So no, we can’t share Parson’s confidence, and only wonder if he’s trying to fool us or himself.