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Real key to recovery: production

| Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

To Peter Navarro's eye, Pittsburgh is the “most prosperous” of cities where his documentary, “Death by China,” has had limited distribution.

But it's prosperity “with a false bottom,” he said in a phone interview from California.

Health care and education are the local economy's “main drivers” now. But without manufacturing, “you're not going to have enough money,” he says, to keep growing white collar and white coat prosperity.

He says America urgently must get back to making, not just consuming, factory goods.

Otherwise the country is going down — and he means even militarily. The trading “partner” across the Pacific keeps stealing our secrets, thanks to multinational corporations, so eager to sell a billion customers that they're creating a competitive monster, still aggressively Communist even as it piles up our dollars.

So take off the gloves in trade with China, Navarro says.

And, rarely for a scholar, he says it on film.

In fact, add this footnote to 2012:

Documentary movies are punching across complex arguments like never before. Even in economics. Truth, or at least polemical argument, is as (grimly) entertaining as a Hollywood shoot ‘em up.

Dinesh D'Souza's take on President Barack Obama's anti-American education, titled “2016,” is a box office hit. “The Princess of Versailles” bares the witless consumerism of a California family whose fortune went poof with the housing bubble. “Inside Job” exposed Wall Street shenanigans.

But no film fodder is as chewy as how the Red Chinese are racking up $300 billion of yearly trade surpluses against us while pocketing IOUs for lots of our $16 trillion national debt and shutting plants in the USA.

Navarro, 63, an economics professor at University of California, Irvine, claims to be steering right down the middle of the Nov. 6 election.

Either party could buck Chinese economic aggression, he says, yet neither presidential candidate is paying enough attention to the 800-pound panda in the room.

Republican Mitt Romney has said his first act as president would be to brand Beijing a “currency manipulator.” But Democrat Obama made the same pledge in 2008 and nothing came of it. True, the administration is pursuing trade cases against import “dumping,” but it's a plodding process, which a currency fix wouldn't be.

By pricing their yuan falsely low, the Chinese keep exports to us cheap, our exports to them high to hopeless.

China also subsidizes outgoing shipments, pollutes its air and water like mad, and allegedly treats countless workers like dirt.

Result: a low-cost production haven for General Electric, Apple, Boeing and Wal-Mart, all bluntly named in the script.

Navarro made his movie (with a co-director and skilled off-camera people) for just $500,000 — his own money plus donations from small manufacturers who've been effectively shut down by China under the nose of the World Trade Organization. WTO admitted China in 2001. Since then, we've lost scads of factories and jobs.

Surprised you haven't seen an advertising blitz for all this economic entertainment? “Death By China” played one week on one Pittsburgh screen.

“The major studios do not want to touch this kind of film,” said Navarro, 63. “They want China's movie ticket money.”

Email him at jmarkowitz@tribweb.com.

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