Ship of Fools

illustration/Nathan Galvez

Ship of Fools
Tax breaks for BIW, World War III for us

by Chris Busby

In the spring of 1997, debates were happening in the Maine Legislature, on the pages of local newspapers, and at diner counters, smoky bars and kitchen tables all over the state (recall that this was before smart phones and social media made us less thoughtful and more anti-social). The question at hand: Should Mainers give big tax breaks to corporations that are already hugely profitable?

The corporation asking for public assistance was Virginia-based defense contractor General Dynamics, which had bought the storied Maine shipbuilder Bath Iron Works in 1995. The big break was a bill to give BIW a state payroll-tax rebate, worth $60 million over the next two decades, if it spent money to modernize and expand its Kennebec River shipyard and didn’t further reduce its workforce by more than half.

The Bath City Council had just unanimously granted the General Dynamics subsidiary a property-tax break worth $81 million, and BIW stood to receive an additional $53 million in state tax reimbursements courtesy of a program already on the books, bringing the total value of this corporate-welfare package to $194 million.

The $60 million payroll-tax break had been negotiated by company officials and then Gov. Angus King, an “independent” not enrolled in a political party. Among the state lawmakers who questioned the deal was the Senate majority leader, a Democrat from North Haven then known as Rochelle Pingree.

Pingree and other critics noted that General Dynamics had made a profit of $270 million the previous year, and banked $320 million in earnings the year before that. “[E]veryone knows General Dynamics is highly profitable and we want to make sure they share part of the risk and also the accountability,” Pingree said at the time. “I don’t think BIW would deny that General Dynamics could pay for the expansion,” she said. “The question is, ‘Would they?’”

The answer, according to BIW’s spokesman, was no — not without financial help from Maine taxpayers that amounted to nearly two-thirds of the project’s $307 million cost. BIW pointed out that the state of Mississippi used publicly backed bonds in the 1960s to finance construction of the shipyard used by BIW’s sole competitor in the market to build surface warships for the Navy, Huntington Ingalls Industries. Without a similar level of public assistance BIW wouldn’t be able to compete with Ingalls on bids for military contracts, the company claimed.

Dubbed the Shipbuilders Tax Credit, the payroll-tax break passed both chambers of the Legislature by wide margins and King dutifully signed it into law. BIW followed through on its plan to upgrade and expand its shipyard. It did not cut its workforce by more than half, but there are about 1,800 fewer Mainers on its state-subsidized payroll these days (roughly 5,700 full-timers) than there were in 1997, and less than half the “peacetime” high of 12,000 workers employed by BIW in 1990.

Flash forward to the present day. BIW is asking the state to renew the $60 million tax break for another 20 years. Once again, it’s pointing to the financial assistance Ingalls receives from Mississippi to justify its demand for more money from Mainers, and it’s promising to continue to invest in its facilities and maintain a sizeable workforce — in other words, to keep doing business as usual.

What’s drastically changed since 1997 are the fortunes of its parent company, General Dynamics. The military contractor’s profits have skyrocketed over the past two decades, topping $3 billion annually in recent years. The Global War on Terror has been a huge boon to U.S. weapons manufacturers, and the Pentagon’s latest plans to prepare for war against Russia and China continue to drain the Treasury while boosting the stock value of these merchants of death.

It’s tempting to say General Dynamics has more money these days than it knows what to do with, but that’s not exactly true. Its board has found a use for the billions the corporation has reaped from American taxpayers and foreign governments: buying shares of its own stock to prop up its value and further enrich Wall Street investors and top executives whose compensation is linked to stock performance.

William Lazonick, an economist at UMass Lowell who studies the practice of “stock buybacks,” tallied the money General Dynamics has spent on its own shares from 2005 through the first half of last year. The total came to $16.2 billion, according to figures published last November in the Providence Journal.

This practice has increased considerably since former CIA operative Phebe Novakovic became CEO in 2013. Novakovic has dedicated over 85 percent of General Dynamics’ profits to buybacks — $10.3 billion from 2013 through the middle of last year — greatly enriching herself in the process. “Novakovic netted $49 million in take-home pay in her first four years as General Dynamics CEO,” the Journal reported, noting that over 40 percent of her compensation is “stock-based pay.”

Back in ’97, even a blue-collar Mainer with no expertise in corporate finance might agree that General Dynamics could use some help paying for a $300 million modernization at BIW, given that the corporation’s annual profits were roughly equal to that sum. After all, there are other divisions of General Dynamics that vie with BIW for investment from year to year.

That any Mainer would think General Dynamics needs his or her money now is much harder to conceive, yet here we go again.

Last fall, in a rare display of bipartisan unity, top state lawmakers from both parties unanimously voted to have the Legislature take up renewal of BIW’s $60 million tax break during this year’s short session in Augusta, when such bills must be deemed “emergency” measures to be considered. The bill is LD 1781, “An Act to Encourage New Major Investments in Shipbuilding Facilities and the Preservation of Jobs.” It’s sponsored by Rep. Jennifer DeChant, a Democrat from Bath. The Legislature’s Taxation Committee is scheduled to hold a work session on the bill on Feb. 6 (the public can attend but no comments will be taken), and hearings and votes will follow later this winter.

The 1997 tax-break legislation required BIW to invest at least $200 million in its shipyard. The current bill requires only half that amount of investment — which is fortunate for the shipbuilder, because BIW doesn’t need to undertake any major new infrastructure projects. The Brunswick Times Record reported that a General Dynamics executive told senators on Capitol Hill last year that BIW could “double” its current production of destroyers for the Navy with “‘no significant capital investment in new facilities,’” though he added that his Fortune 500 company “could use additional [public] funding for job training.”

The new baseline for employment in DeChant’s bill is 5,000 workers through the year 2023, and 4,000 workers after that, though BIW would be granted two “exception years” during which it could cut its workforce below those levels and still get the tax break.

Money that BIW spends to train its workers would count toward the $100 million investment benchmark, as would funds spent to maintain existing facilities. In Connecticut and Rhode Island, General Dynamics subsidiary Electric Boat has received millions of dollars’ worth of state subsidies for worker training. Last month, a Democratic state senator in Connecticut filed legislation to give Electric Boat another $150 million to train its employees.

“I think, as taxpayers, we’re being taken for fools,” Lazonick, the UMass economist, told the Rhode Island paper. “At a minimum, I would have a rule saying, ‘You’re not getting any subsidies if you’re doing buybacks. You’re showing us you don’t need the money.’”

Will Mainers take a similar stand this winter and object to giving more cash to a corporation already awash in capital? General Dynamics has bamboozled the locals with this shell game several times in recent years, citing the need to compete with Ingalls as an excuse to squeeze its workers and the residents of Bath for what amounts to relative pocket change while blowing billions to fatten the bank accounts of shareholders and its own executives. But in the wake of the massive federal tax cut for corporations like General Dynamics, rushed through Congress by Republicans last December, another big state tax break for Wall Street elites could be hard for the commoners to swallow.

Driving this entire industry is a new military strategy devised by a reckless commander in chief with the intellect and temperament of a playground bully, guided by a staff of former generals with close ties to the corporations that profit from these war plans. For example, before he was confirmed as Secretary of Defense a year ago, retired Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis had to divest his stock and resign from the board of the Pentagon’s fourth-largest defense contractor: General Dynamics.

Last month, Mattis released a new National Defense Strategy, the first such plan the U.S. has developed in a decade. Based on President Trump’s National Security Strategy, which was released in December, Mattis’ plan explicitly names China and Russia as “threats” to our national security that “seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models.” A week later, news broke that President Trump — siding with Mattis over the concerns of more budget-conscious officials — will seek to increase Pentagon spending 13 percent above current levels, to $716 billion, in order to prepare for conflict on a global scale against another “great power.”

So Mainers are not just being asked to give BIW another tax break. We’re being told to open our wallets to finance the next World War.


Poor Little Rich Corp.

Consumer activist Ralph Nader happened to be in Maine in the spring of ’97 for some speaking engagements, and the Portland Press Herald asked him for his take on BIW’s pending payroll-tax break. Nader recalled that when General Dynamics bought BIW two years earlier, one of the benefits touted by executives was supposed to be BIW’s ability to tap into its parent company’s big stash of capital to make improvements to the shipyard. (BIW’s previous owner, an investment group led by Prudential Insurance Company, reportedly lacked access to that kind of cash.) Instead, General Dynamics was “shaking down” the people of Maine for the money to upgrade its facility, Nader said. He called the proposed deal “corporate socialism.”

“Nader also was critical of [Gov.] King’s comment last week that the deal constituted an investment by the state, rather than corporate welfare,” the Herald reported. “‘If it’s an investment, then it should be two-way,’ Nader said. In return, Maine should say, ‘“We want a share of the profits.’”

Consider this: If the state of Maine had actually invested $60 million in General Dynamics 20 years ago — if we had given the corporation that sum in exchange for stock, and promised not to cash out until 2018 — then its subsidiary in Bath would get its bigger and better shipyard and the people of Maine would get a titanic return. How big would our collective windfall be? In early June of 1997, when the tax break passed the Legislature, General Dynamics’ shares were selling for $18.72; late last month, just before this issue went to press, they were selling for $226.24, a twelve-fold increase. So that initial $60 million would be worth over $720 million, and that’s not counting all the dividends we’d have received during the past two decades. If the state reinvested those dividends, the value of our General Dynamics holdings would now be over a billion dollars, according to the corporation’s handy online share-price calculator.

Instead, General Dynamics improved its shipyard in Bath, used its upgraded facilities to generate some of the billions of dollars in profits it’s shelling out to wealthy shareholders, and Maine is out $60 million it would have otherwise collected and could have used for the public’s benefit. Lacking sufficient state funding for projects like school construction, communities like Portland have to borrow millions of dollars to build or renovate schools (plus millions more to cover interest on that bond debt). This burden falls squarely on the shoulders of local property-tax payers. As a result, homeowners, renters and small-business owners pay more in taxes while Wall Street investors profit from private stocks and public bonds. That’s inequality in action, folks.

At the very least, we might politely ask the board of General Dynamics to pay us back the $200 million the corporation saved in tax breaks over the past 20 years — after all, according to its executives’ own words, their fantastic success would have been impossible without the generous support of the people of Maine.

But no, from General Dynamics’ point of view the fact they’re doing business here is reward enough for us. Every time BIW’s top brass ask for a handout, their spokesmen — former newspaper reporters like Matt Wickenheiser and David Hench — provide an updated list of impressive economic figures for their colleagues in the press to transcribe: “5,700 employees, a payroll in excess of $350 million a year and [spending of] $45 million annually for goods and services from Maine companies, including $30 million to small businesses.” That’s a quote from an un-bylined article about the latest tax-break bill, published by Mainebiz last month. The anonymous author also included the sum, to the dollar, that BIW has “invested” in Maine since the previous payroll-tax break went into effect: $480,736,639. The mystery journalist neglected to report that General Dynamics has spent over 33 times that amount on stock buybacks since 2005, but did include, at the very end, the fact the corporation “reported $3.1 billion in earnings in 2016 … the highest earnings in its history.”

How much public money does General Dynamics really need from Mainers to keep BIW in business? Based on the company’s actions, the short answer seems to be Much more than they’ve already received. According to the Press Herald, during closed-door negotiations with Gov. King before the $60 million payroll-tax rebate was introduced in ’97, BIW big wigs requested “about $200 million in state help, including corporate income tax reimbursement.”

As previously mentioned, BIW ultimately got $194 million in combined state and local tax breaks. However, in the fall of 2013 they were back at Bath’s City Hall asking for an additional $6.3 million of property-tax relief, this time for another expansion at the shipyard. According to press reports, the citizens of Bath (pop. 8,357 that year) were less enthusiastic about the idea than they had been 16 years before.

Following the City Council’s unanimous vote in ’97 to give BIW a property-tax break worth $81 million over 25 years, the crowd of about 150 citizens, many of them BIW employees, gave councilors a standing ovation, the Press Herald reported. Yet even back then there was some grumbling among the groundlings. “Councilor Robert Adams said he had heard from numerous citizens who opposed the [tax-break] agreement,” the Herald’s Dennis Hoey wrote. “He said they did not attend the hearing because they felt the decision was a done deal.” (Perhaps it goes without saying, but it also takes gonads of steel to stand in a packed room among burly shipbuilders, many of whom are also your neighbors, and oppose a deal that they believe is crucial to their livelihood.) “I hear comments like, ‘General Dynamics has $1.6 billion dollars in the bank. Don’t forget us, the regular taxpayer,’” Adams said during the meeting, before “reluctantly” voting yes.

In 2013, in response to more strident public opposition, the Bath Council reduced BIW’s request for another $6.3 million in tax breaks over 25 years to $3.7 million over 15 years. “Officials at BIW … had said it was possible that if a tax break was denied, the company might not be able to expand the facility, putting local jobs at risk,” the Press Herald reported at the time.

The 2013 expansion included construction of a $32 million outfitting hall, a building that enables shipbuilders who had been laboring outside to work indoors in safer, climate-controlled conditions, and to do their work more efficiently, according to BIW executives. Critics of stock buybacks point out that profit spent to prop up share value is money not spent on productive real-world investments — like this outfitting hall. Having blown $3.5 billion on buybacks between 2009 and 2012, General Dynamics had the ’nads to ask the citizens of Bath for another $6.3 million and to threaten job cuts if they didn’t get that handout.

Profit spent on buybacks is also money that isn’t spent to compensate the men and women whose hard work generates those profits. In recent years, unionized workers at BIW have repeatedly been pressured to accept concessions on pay, benefits, pensions, outsourcing and scheduling in order to reduce costs for this supposedly cash-strapped business. A federal mediator was brought in last September to facilitate contract negotiations between BIW and the union representing 760 draftsmen and technicians, who were preparing to strike over the loss of so-called flex-time benefits. The ability to work a flexible schedule is crucial for employees who’ve lost dozens of vacation and sick days due to previous contract cuts, the union said.

In late 2015, the shipyard’s largest union, Local S6 of the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America, which represents about 3,600 BIW machinists, narrowly approved a new four-year contract. The agreement stipulates that the workers will not get a pay raise for the rest of this decade and will be on the hook for higher health insurance co-payments and deductibles. Instead, BIW offered annual bonuses of $2,500 and a small increase in contributions to a pension fund.

“The company is making record profits, but the cuts continue,” Local S6 president Mike Keenan told a reporter last fall, as the draftsmen prepared to hit the picket line. “Here it seems like the working class seems to take it on the chin,” he added. BIW “could do so much more by rewarding folks than talking concessions.”

General Dynamics would have us believe these labor problems aren’t happening because its Maine subsidiary is too stingy — it’s that the people of Mississippi are too generous.


War, Inc.

David Hench, the longtime Press Herald crime reporter who became a BIW spokesman a year or so ago, said officials at the shipyard declined to make anyone available for an interview for this story. In any case, BIW’s side of the story hasn’t changed. They’re still citing Ingalls’ corporate welfare to justify their demands for the same.

From the anonymous Mainebiz article last month: “BIW reported that Ingalls received state bond money from Mississippi in the amount of $45 million in 2016; $20 million in 2015; $56 million in 2008; $56 million in 2006; and $40 million in 2005. Additionally, in 2013 Mississippi provided $20 million to construct a 70,000-square-foot training facility at their shipyard.”

BIW receives “nothing anywhere near the scale” of the public subsidies Ingalls enjoys, Hench told the Bangor Daily News last March. Last fall, when renewal of BIW’s $60 million payroll-tax break made the papers, the shipyard released a statement declaring, “We have never operated in a more competitive environment for new ships, and allowing the tax benefits we currently receive to continue is a significant contributor to that effort,” the BDN reported.

The U.S. Navy is “a customer who wants to buy ships as quickly and inexpensively as they can get them,” reads another recent BIW public statement. “Mississippi understands that dynamic as well as the economic impact of having part of the nation’s shipbuilding industrial base in their state. That is what BIW is up against.”

Actually, the amount of state subsidy Ingalls has received in the past dozen years is definitely in the same ballpark as BIW’s. The figures BIW cites add up to $237 million in Mississippi money for its rival. Compare that to BIW’s $194 million tax-break package, much of which is still in effect, plus the extra $3.7 million from Bath in 2013 and another $60 million if the payroll-tax break is renewed this winter.

In reality, the “environment for new ships” has never been less competitive. According to data compiled on the site, the number of U.S. shipyards capable of building large naval vessels has shrunk from 30 to 6 since the Eisenhower Administration of the 1950s. The domestic market for destroyers has long had just two competitors, BIW and Ingalls.

If the Navy really is obsessed with procuring warships as “quickly and inexpensively as possible” — a laughable claim, as we’ll see in a few paragraphs — then it must be in the Navy’s interest to have multiple, competing contractors building them. A contractor with a monopoly on destroyer production would have no incentive to keep costs down, and two yards can obviously build more ships, more quickly, than one. That’s one reason why the Navy has sought to increase warship production and spread those contracts out among the remaining shipyards since the late 1990s.

The strategic importance of having multiple yards is another reason (that way, production can’t be crippled by an attack on a single site). And another big factor is politics — more specifically, political “pork,” big government projects and contracts doled out among politicians so they can boast to their constituents about “bringing jobs back to [fill in name of state/municipality].”

Political influence is as significant a factor as cost in the “competition” to build Navy ships — maybe even more significant, if you believe the politicians.

Consider the big debate in the fall of 1996, when Republican Susan Collins was running for a seat in the U.S. Senate against former Maine Governor and Congressman Joe Brennan. A spat erupted when Brennan claimed that Navy contracts for destroyers and cruisers would all go to Ingalls if Collins won. Why? Not because Ingalls can build the ships more cheaply, but because Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi would remain majority leader of the Senate if, with the help of a Collins victory, his party retained its majority, and Lott would naturally favor the shipyard in his home state.

Collins cried foul, claiming there was an “agreement” between Lott and Republican Sen. Bill Cohen of Maine (who was retiring from the Senate but soon to become President Clinton’s Secretary of Defense) to split Navy contracts evenly between Ingalls and BIW. Lott came up here that fall to campaign for Collins and followed up with an official letter, which he addressed “to the people of Maine,” touting an agreement to fairly divide contracts between Ingalls and BIW for the next four years in order to benefit “both shipyards, the U.S. Navy and the taxpayer.”

Thanks in no small measure to Lott’s assurances, Collins won that race, and though Lott later tried to renege on his pledge and shift more work to Ingalls at BIW’s expense, his gambit failed and both shipyards have been successful ever since. Again, that’s all politics, not a matter of which yard can do the work for less money — an assertion that assumes the Navy is sincerely concerned about costs, which it sure as hell ain’t.

The U.S. military’s profligate spending habits are legendary. From the Navy’s infamous $435 hammer to the multi-billion-dollar weapons that still don’t work, it’s been clear for decades that the Pentagon is not overly concerned about getting the most bang for the American taxpayer’s buck. In fact, it’s taken decades to force our military to even begin to try to account for some of the trillions of dollars of public money it’s been spending.

It was the 1990s when the federal government announced it was requiring all its departments and agencies to audit their books and submit financial reports for public review. The Pentagon basically blew off that homework assignment. In 2010, Congress got tough and set a firm deadline: the military had to “clean up its books and get ready,” as one senator put it, to conduct an audit in (wait for it) … seven years.

That deadline finally arrived last fall, and a small army of accountants has been mustered to tackle the task, which will not be easy. In fact, it may be impossible. In early 2017, the Government Accountability Office found “serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense that have prevented its financial statements from being auditable.”

There’s good reason to believe those problems exist by design, to hide a monumental amount of waste and fraud. In a December 2016 exposé co-authored by Watergate reporter Bob Woodward, the Washington Post reported that Pentagon officials “buried an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste in its business operations amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget.” Auditors from the prestigious management-consulting firm McKinsey & Company found that one of the most obscure areas of Pentagon accounting was its tracking of “labor costs for defense contractors.”

“Information on contractor labor, in particular, was so cloaked in mystery that McKinsey described it as ‘dark matter,’” Woodward and colleague Craig Whitlock wrote.

Keep in mind that this was just one internal study, limited to identifying bureaucratic waste, nevermind fraud, which is rampant in every big government program. That $125 billion is surely just the tip of the iceberg. Remember this the next time a member of Congress claims we don’t have the money for universal health care or free college tuition.

And one last point on this subject. If the Pentagon really is scrutinizing every military contractor’s bids to ensure it’s getting the best deal for taxpayers, then what does the Defense Department think about the $114 billion in stock buybacks the five largest contractors have collectively spent on themselves between 2005 and June of last year, according to figures in the Providence Journal’s report? Some of that profit comes from arms sales to foreign countries, like Saudi Arabia and Israel, but most of the contractors’ business is done with the American people. We make these corporations rich with the federal tax money we spend on war machines and the state and local tax money we allow them to keep because they claim they can’t compete against each other without our help.


Killing the Chill

Rep. DeChant, the Bath Democrat who’s sponsoring the bill to renew BIW’s tax break, did not respond to requests for comment made via e-mail and phone. She did, however, find the time to e-mail The Bollard before deadline about a concert series happening this month at Bath’s Chocolate Church Arts Center, where she’s employed as the executive director. The series is called Kill the Chill.

When the American people come to accept, or even expect, that their elected representatives will ignore them and blithely do the bidding of the corporate class, then democracy will finally be dead — and we won’t be far behind it. Nader, in conversation a few months ago with journalist and author Chris Hedges, is already declaring that “there is no democracy” in the U.S.A., and the fact we have no meaningful input on matters of war and peace is the most dangerous aspect of democracy’s demise.

“Can there be a democracy when people have no influence on the military budget? No,” said Nader, as Hedges recounted in his Dec. 31, 2017 column, “The Visionless Society,” posted on the website Truthdig. “It’s not subjected to hearings,” Nader continued. “It’s ratified on the floor of the House and Senate, but it doesn’t go through the appropriations process. It’s subject to the most anemic, pathetic, servile questioning you can imagine. The Congress has destroyed any kind of democratic participation … in the military and foreign policy. … They are cocooned on Capitol Hill with a force field of money, militarism and materialism.”

With a genuine madman now in sole control of our nuclear arsenal and chief command of our armed forces, we can no longer be complacent about American militarism, including the production of billion-dollar destroyers in our own backyard. Maine’s mainstream press allows BIW to narrowly frame this issue as being all about jobs. Every time the shipyard is “awarded” another contract to build more warships, elected officials in both parties (and no party) put out congratulatory press releases and try to claim a slice of the credit. A year or so later, they all gather in trans-partisan unity behind the gates on Washington Street, hard hats perched awkwardly on their carefully coiffed heads, to celebrate the christening of our newest vessel of death.

There is another side to this story. Outside the gates, a ragtag group of gray-haired peace activists is banging on drums and holding homemade signs in protest of the event. They’re heroic Americans, too, veterans and civilians like Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space (yes, they’re also trying to weaponize the heavens), a tireless activist who’s been a thorn in General Dynamics’ side for decades. To them, news that we must collectively spend an uncountable fortune of our collective earnings to add yet another battleship to our global armada is deeply depressing. They wonder what the purpose is; why our Navy, which already dwarfs that of every other nation, needs another battleship to keep us safe, and from whom?

Defense Secretary Mattis answered that question during a speech last month. “The world … is defined by increasing global volatility and uncertainty with great-power competition between nations becoming a reality once again,” he said. The Global War on Terror will continue, he assured us, “but great-power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.”

Our great-power competitors are China and Russia, both major nuclear powers, not wannabes like Iran and North Korea. Tellingly, Mattis describes the threats they pose as being both military and economic in nature. “China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea,” his National Defense Strategy states. “Russia has violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic, and security decisions of its neighbors.”

An assessment of the actual threats those two nations pose is beyond the purview of this piece, though it’s worth wondering aloud how the ability to conduct big naval battles fits into modern-day war planning among factors like cyber-attacks, biological weapons, tactical nuclear weapons and, yes, space warfare.

In a cruel irony, the financialization of our economy — the same phenomenon that compels corporations to focus on short-term gains through stock buybacks — also leaves us vulnerable to grievous harm from rival “great powers.”

In his 2010 memoir On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System, former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson dropped a bombshell. According to Paulson, in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis Russia proposed to China that they both sell bonds they held in the government-backed mortgage underwriters Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, a move some economists predict would have cratered our country’s economy. The Chinese declined, in part because Americans are such good customers for their products and our abject poverty would leave us unable to repay the other huge debts we owe them.

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