King’s Survey: Fittings

In which we see pressing political questions emerge from the business of making shoes

Woman_distributing_work_in_a_shoe_factory,_Lynn,_Mass
Woman shoe worker, Lynn, Massachusetts

Good morning, Brianna.

—Morning.

Brianna, you are the proud owner of the Yankee Shoe Company in Manchester, New Hampshire.

—Am I.

You are. And I must say, I really admire what you’ve accomplished. You started out 25 years ago as journeyman shoemaker in the nearby town of Derry, moved to this mill city to start your own company fifteen years ago, and here we are in the 1830s with you running a prosperous business employing dozens of people, most of them women. I’m very impressed.

—It’s nothing. Really.

You’re too modest.

—You said she’s employing women. Was that unusual?

Not at all, Sadie. Brianna is like a lot of manufacturers here in New England. It’s a wonderful system, really. She employs young women before they get married and start families. They learn the value of work, and the value of thrift. Essential values, don’t you agree? The parents of her charges are thrilled with her. Now, some of Brianna’s competitors are beginning to change their labor practicesI regret to report that they’re bringing in men who I’m sorry to say are not of entirely of good reputebut I believe Brianna has far too much integrity to ever indulge in such shenanigans. Am I right, Brianna?

—If you say so.

You’re a visionary, Brianna, and not just in your labor practices. You’ve also got some fairly sophisticated ideas about trade. Which is why you’re so devoted to Henry Clay, correct?

—You took the words right of my mouth.

So glad we’re on the same wavelength. Yes, Ethan?

—Remind us again what it means to be a Clay fan.

Funny you should ask. Clay is a great believer in people like Brianna: he believes she represents the future of the American economy. As we’ve discussed in this class, the United States declared its political independence from Britain in 1776, but in the half-century since it’s remained an economic colony, in large measure because it depends on Britain for manufactured goods. Like shoes. Clay wants to strengthen American manufacturing. The best way to do that is by imposing tariffs, or taxes, on foreign goods. This will make them more expensive, and thus less attractive, to consumers.

Let me explain how this works. Brianna here makes a pretty good shoe. She sells them for a dollar a pair. But let’s face it: she’s no competition for shoes from Milan. Those Italians have been making shoes for centuries. They’re goodand because they know what they’re doing, they’re cheap. They also cost a dollar a pair. So what Clay wants is to slap a fifty-cent tariff on the Italian shoes. So they’ll cost $1.50, while Yankee Shoe Company shoes cost a buck: 50% less. So what shoes are you going to buy, Ethan?

—Probably the Yankee shoes. If they’re any good.

Getting better all the time. And you, Jonah?

—Sure. I’ll buy the Yankee shoes.

—I’m not sure I like this.

Oh, Em. What’s not to like?

—Why should I have to pay more?

I don’t understand.

—Oh c’mon, Mr. K., or Mr. Clay, or whoever you are today. Why shouldn’t I be able to buy the good shoes at the low price? I mean, I love you Brianna, but why should pay more for goes that aren’t as good?

—I love you too, Em. Ciao, baby.

No one is saying you can’t buy the shoes, Em. And when

—That’s not the point and you know it.

And when you, and other style mavens out there like Adam

Style maven? What the hell is a style maven?

—It means sexy hot model, Adam. That’s you all over.

—That means so much coming from you, Chris.

As I was saying, when Emily or anyone else who loves those Italian shoes goes ahead and buys them (hey: it’s a free country), the revenue from the tariff will go toward paying for roads and other kinds of national infrastructure that will create a rising tide that lifts all boats. As far as I can tell, no one could be happier about that than Jonquil.

—Oh sure. You can see it all over her face.

Now, now, Adam. Jonquil is one of those sturdy, stolid Missouri cattle farmers. She provides the leather that goes to make Brianna’s shoes. The better Brianna does, the better Jonquil does. And as Brianna’s shoes get even better, even Emily will buy them. And her dollars will stay home.

—That’s me. A cattle farmer. 

—Yeah, well, until that day when Brianna’s shoes are good comes I still don’t see why I should have to, what’s the word I’m looking for …

I think it’s “subsidize.”

Subsidize the American shoe business.

I guess that makes you a Jackson man.

—A Jackson man?

I’m sorry: A Jackson supporter.

—Oh yeah?

Yeah. And here I was thinking you’re an Adams … supporter.

—You know, Mr. K., you never really did get into Jackson’s political beliefs.

No, Sadie. I didn’t. But I will right now. Essentially, Jackson was a Jeffersonian small government man.

—But you said Jefferson hated him.

More like feared him: feared the way ignored the rule of law, and feared the popularity he seemed to have because of it. But there was an underlying continuity there. And it’s important to understand that it’s not simply the small-government thing: that was the means to an end. The end was championing the cause of the little guy (and I guess I do mean guy in this context). When Henry Clay looks at Brianna of the Yankee Shoe Company, he sees a story of upward mobility that’s honorable and worth encouraging. When Jackson looks at Brianna of the Yankee Shoe Company, he sees an oppressor in the making: someone who’s getting an unfair advantage with the tariff that will put her even farther ahead than she already is.

—When you put it that way, I guess he has a point.

So you are a Jacksonian, Em?

—I’m not sure.

Why not?

—Because I don’t feel like I know enough.

You want to know more?

—Desperately, Mr. K. I’m dying to know more about Andrew Jackson.

Oh, well, in that case, you can wait till tomorrow.

—And if I was being sarcastic?

Then you can still wait until tomorrow.

—Glad we sorted out my options.

Next: Breaking Clay

 

 

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