With recent efforts to bolster the US manufacturing base and produce more goods domestically than purchased abroad, the debate over other countries’ ability to raise and lower their currency almost at will to benefit their trade has risen to the surface again in Washington. A lot of members of Congress – including its champion Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) – are stomping their feet and introducing bills requiring the US government to penalize countries that do so. China is the most obvious and talked about most in Washington.
But it’s not a new issue.
Following is an article – entitled: Toys and Trifles – on the subject published in Washington’s National Intelligencer newspaper on February 16, 1856 –
Toys and Triffles
"On this them, a long while ago, (says the Boston Courier,) we took occasion to remark that the United States imported more unnecessary articles and exported more of the necessary articles of life than any other nation. The following extract from the Albany Evening Journal will no doubt strike others as it does ourselves of the truth of our remark. At the same time it speaks volumes in favor of the argument of regulating in some measures a currency which contributes forcibly to open wide the door of so remunerative a market for the introduction of articles that we ourselves might so easily produce; or if it must be that our people will continue to avail themselves of foreign industry, in preference to their own at home, let it be done on more equal terms than our own currency now permits it to be:
The Nation’s Extravagance
For the year ending August 31, 1855, we Americans imported from Europe, for our own heads and those of our wives and daughters, $1,982,560 worth of bonnets of silk, straw, and leghorn, and of hats and caps. Yet how few of the head-pieces one sees give evidence of having been sent for three thousand miles away. All are seemingly home-made. In that same year, young and old America treated themselves to $8,722,850 worth of watches, chronometers, and clocks of European make. Their appetite too for foreign jewelry was baited with $974,120 worth of the article upon which, without sighing, they paid a duty of thirty per cent. Of leather to cover their hands and their feet they sent across the ocean and bought to the tune of $3,069,860 – enough to hide-bind the nation and sicken it in various ways.
Having killed off all our woolen manufacturers, we let the foreigners take from us in the same year $24,225,379 for fabrics of wool that we had to have, or thought we wanted; for linen goods $8,617,165, for cotton goods only $15,742,923, for embroideries $3,892,749, and for iron and steel and their manufactures $22,980,728. Considering that America is the richest country on the face of the globe in the ores of metals and the means and skill to reduce them, the last item must have been a hard one in a double sense, and perhaps induced the importation by our people for solvents and aids to digestion in the shape of $4,615,735 worth of wines and liquors. Old and Young America bought abroad last year, and on tick, of things they could mostly have made at home, to the extent of $11,281,245! Any other concern in the world would "bust up" under such reckless house-keeping and management."