Author blames 'free trade' for economic woes
Thanks to this presidential election year, there's plenty of debate over what's ailing the U.S. economy and how to fix it.
A New Richmond author has added his two cents worth to the public discourse.
J.R. Martin recently released his first book, "Selling U.S. Out," and has been appearing on radio talk shows and has been interviewed for newspaper and magazine stories ever since.
Because of his international business background, Martin claims he's discovered the reason why the nation's economy is weak and continues in a downward spiral.
Martin offers several suggestions about how to fix the problems, but said the politicians who could address the situation seem to be indifferent toward his ideas.
Martin grew up in Pittsburg, Pa., the son of a union steel worker.
At the age of 17, Martin joined the Navy and spent nine years serving his country. By taking college courses on nights and weekends, Martin completed his master's degree by the time he left the service.
From there, Martin took jobs in the growing high-tech industry. While living in Texas, Martin eventually went to work for a Japanese company and had his first experience with international trade.
He and his wife, Jill, later left their respective jobs to move to Wisconsin to better care for Jill's ailing mother.
"It took us a while to figure out how we were going to make a living up here," Martin admitted.
The couple struck out on their own and purchased a Money Mailer direct mail franchise, covering western Wisconsin and the northeastern Twin Cities area.
Once that business was established, Martin took a job with a high-tech company from Singapore with production facilities in China. After a short time on the job, what he discovered was both shocking and discouraging.
By the rules?
Martin thought he was working for a company seeking to make inroads into the U.S. market. He quickly realized that the business was already doing millions of dollars' worth of business in this country and it was simply hiring him to improve their business networking efforts.
Even though the company was doing business in this country, Martin said, they were not incorporated in the U.S. and somehow successfully avoided paying any taxes.
Worried that he was working for a company that was breaking the law, Martin hired a tax attorney to evaluate the business' practices.
He said experts weren't sure if the business was operating legally or not. Internal Revenue Service officials indicated that an investigation could be conducted, but Martin would have to "turn in" the company first to get the process started. Trouble was that Martin would have no legal protection once the investigation began.
"It was like financial suicide," he said. "Why would I do that?"
Martin talked with company officials to try to "change their behavior." They had no interest in revamping how they were operating, however.
The company's owner told Martin that he didn't want to pay taxes and that he would continue to take advantage of the loopholes offered in U.S. trade laws.
"So I decided to disengage them," Martin said of his decision to quit. "I could have made hundreds of thousands of dollars if I stayed with those guys. In good conscience, I couldn't do that."
By staying with the company, Martin explained, he would be playing a part damaging the U.S. economy. By working for a company that had an unfair competitive advantage over U.S. companies that pay taxes and employ American workers, Martin said he felt his efforts would be resulting in the loss of jobs across this nation.
"I'd be selling out my country," he said.
A big issue
After leaving his job, Martin wondered how widespread such unfair trade practices were in the U.S. economy. He supposed that if one smaller company was "gaming" the system, others must be doing the same.
Martin researched the topic and discovered that many foreign companies enjoy preferential treatment when it comes to taxes and tariffs. The loopholes were first introduced under President Ronald Reagan in an effort to encourage more trade with China. The push for more trade has expanded ever since, Martin said.
With the help of such loopholes, Martin claims, foreign companies from Japan, China, India and others have captured huge markets within the U.S. and have stolen away many American jobs. The U.S. now has such a significant trade deficit that it's no wonder the nation's economy is a mess, he added.
The original intent of such trade agreements was to create a win-win situation for all countries involved in trade, Martin explained. The real result was that the U.S. has lost and other countries have won, he added.
"What we call free trade isn't trade at all," he said. "It's been good for them and bad for us."
Once he knew the truth, Martin said, he wanted to make people aware of the problem and help officials fix the issue. That was easier said than done, he discovered.
Martin said he contacted his U.S. congressional members but got little or no response.
"It was a very infuriating time for me," he said. "What I considered to be a very serious situation, they seemed to be indifferent toward it."
What made matters worse, Martin said, was that his wife's Money Mailer business received an IRS audit notice at that exact same time. While international businesses weren't playing by fair trade rules, Martin said, the family's Wisconsin small business which was playing by the rules was getting the once-over.
The audit turned out fine, but Martin was even more angered by the inequity inherent in the nation's economic system. He said he decided the only way to share his message with others was to write a book.
Published by Beaver's Pond Press, "Selling U.S. Out" outlines Martin's experiences in international business and his impressions concerning the unfair trade practices that exist today.
In the book's final chapter, Martin offers a list of possible steps the U.S. can take to turn its economy around.
Martin calls for the development of a national economic strategy, with one of the key components of that plan being expanded cooperative efforts between the U.S government and U.S. businesses.
"We need to encourage and reward loyalty to the United States of America," he said. "We need to give preferential treatment to those companies that pay taxes and provide jobs in this country. And we need to make sure that foreign companies play by our rules."
He also suggests the need for major tax code reform, federal government restructuring and Social Security and Medicare reforms.
He said to accomplish the required reform, both political parties will have to work together. Martin admits that will be a difficult goal to achieve in today's politically-charged landscape.
"Politics has almost become like professional sports," he said. "They pick a team, and it's all about who wins and who loses. In this dynamic we've created, we're all losers. We need to get back to a more sane political dynamic."
If elected officials don't start addressing the trade imbalance soon, Martin said, the U.S. could be at risk for another huge economic downturn in the near future.
"Nobody is paying attention to these economic issues," he said. "Yet this is the one issue that government needs to address soon. I honestly believe that we need to take a different course so our kids have a future."
Martin's book is available for purchase at Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and beaverpondpress.com. Available in soft cover, the book is also available in Kindle, Nook and iPad formats.
Free sample chapters are also available at www.sellingusout.org
Copies of the book are being donated to libraries in New Richmond, Roberts, River Falls and Hudson.
Martin is planning two upcoming book signing events. He will be at Table 65 restaurant in New Richmond from 3:30 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8. He will also be signing books at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, at Chapter 2 Books in Hudson.