Are We a Self-Sufficient Nation?

Henry H. Hardinge

[Reprinted from the Henry George Fellowship News, Chicago, IL, November, 1935]

Millions of American citizens harbor the perfectly infantile notion that the U.S.A. is a self-contained nation and could very readily survive if we were suddenly isolated from the rest of the world. Let us see just how independent of the rest of the world we are at the present time and just how independent will we ever be?

We are the largest consumers of raw rubber in the world and we import all of it. We are the largest consumers of coffee in the world and we import every pound of It. We consume the most sugar and import most of it and always will. We consume enormous quantities of tea and import every pound of it and always will. We consume more chocolate and cocoa than any other nation and import every pound of them.

America is the home of the chewing gum industry and we import millions of pounds of chicle to make it. We do not grow it here. We are the largest consumers of binder twine in the world and import nearly all of the sisal from YUCATAN. We use more jute for gunnysacks than any other nation and get all of the raw material from India -- not a pound is grown in this country. Jute like rubber and many other Imports, is a hot country product.

We use millions of pounds of copra in our soap industry and get all of it from foreign lands. Most of our essential oils are from abroad; also vegetable oils. We consume more bananas than any other nation and import practically every one of them -- a hot country product. We import most of our pineapples and we consume millions of them. We are the greatest users of leather in the world for belting, shoes and a thousand other uses, and get most of the hides and all of the good ones from abroad. We are the greatest consumers of "hot dogs" in the world and nearly all of our sausage casings (all of the best ones) come from Australia, New Zealand; and the very best from Russia.

As to wood, of which we need and use enormous quantities, the precious woods such as teak, ebony, mahogany, boxwood, rosewood, Circassian walnut, balsa and lignum-vitae, all come from the tropics, as does satinwood. As to metals, we cannot carry on without high speed steel; molybdennum, tungsten, vanadium, chrome, nickel and cobalt all come from abroad. We cannot line our blast furnaces without magnesite, a product of Greece. Scarcely any of these metals are produced here and those only of low quality.

Russian manganese is the best in the world and we cannot make a good railway frog without it, nor a good dipper for a dredge. The best tungsten for Mazda lamps comes from China. We are the greatest consumers of tins in the world -- America is the home of the tin can; and not a pound of it is mined in this good old U.S.A. Nature did not put it here.

It takes three metals to make type: antimony, tin and lead. Of the three we produce only lead. The antimony comes from Hankow, China.

We cannot vaunt the praises and the virtues of a high protective tariff and advertise our self-sufficiency for the edification of the rest of a suffering world without going abroad for two of the metals with which to convey the necessary misinformation.

We are the largest consumers of raw silk in the world. China and Japan are the great sources of supply. We have practically no asbestos mines of high quality. It was first found in Quebec and now China, Russia and Canada supply us. We are the largest consumers of industrial alcohol in the world and the cheapest base for it is molasses, the byproduct of cane sugar, and most of it comes from abroad.

We are the largest producers of synthetic lumber such as celotex; the base material is gypsum and sugar cane stalks, and the island of Cuba sends us the material. The rare woods, the rare metals, the tropical fruits, the pitchblende deposits are found only outside the borders of this country. The Belgian Congo and British North America are the source of radium ores. Of wool we import immense quantities from Argentina and Australia to blend with our domestic brands to make perfect woolen cloth.

Practically all of the newsprint paper for our protectionist newspapers, as well as the type metal, comes from Canada and Norway. We cannot make good cutlery without Swedish ores and stainless steel is impossible without chrome from Rhodesia and Brazil. Who has not seen and eaten Brazil nuts and almonds? More than half of the contents of the great American candy box is imported. Did you ever see any domestic cinnamon or cloves? Most of our spices are imported.

__ All of our cork comes from Spain. Cork trees do not flourish here. What would we do without cork? Even our "drys" would be up against it without cork. It is invaluable as an insulator in refrigeration. There are musical instruments that would be vastly inferior were they confined to domestic woods, and the xylophone and all such instruments as clarinets, flutes, etc., would be worthless.

The vanilla bean is a foreign product. Take these two things alone, vanilla and chocolate, out of our soda fountains, as well as the candy boxes, and imagine if you can what would happen to the candy business, the American soda fountain, the American bakery and the average domestic kitchen!

Yes, we are far from self-sufficient and this is only a partial list. If our wits were as keen as the razor blades we make from Swedish steel we would be the keenest and wisest people on earth today. The terrible commercial depression from which we are now suffering, and the asinine reasons assigned as to its cause by our organs of public opinion and the ludicrous suggestions as to its remedy, would indicate that we have a long up-hill climb ahead of us before we reach the eminence that Henry George reached when he wrote about Progress and Poverty so brilliantly half a century ago.