Author Turns Filmmaker to Widen Warning on 'Death by China'

Touring political swing states before the election, Peter Navarro — visiting Wauwatosa on Thursday — calls on candidates, corporations and consumers to focus on what has cost America its jobs and market standing.

Peter Navarro has written numerous books on economic policy that have brought him considerable status as a commentator, particularly on foreign trade issues.

Still, when you're a man on a mission, you don't get far by preaching to choirs.

So Navarro, a professor of economics and public policy, became a film director.

"I've learned that writing policy books, even when they sell well by industry standards, don't reach that many people," Navarro said in an interview Wednesday.

"What happened with 'Inconvenient Truth' taught me that the way to get through to a lot of people is through film."

Navarro will appear in person Thursday night at the Rosebud Cinema Drafthouse to introduce his first feature documentary, "Death by China," and to moderate a discussion to follow.

The movie is based on his book, fully titled "Death by China: Confronting the Dragon — A Global Call to Action."

A pre-election call to action

Navarro's visit and the screenings of his film — it will show at the Rosebud on Saturday and Sunday as well — are part of a tour through political swing states to call attention to "the most urgent problem facing our country," Navarro said.

Navarro arrived in Milwaukee Wednesday morning by ferry from Michigan, after showings and town hall talks there and in politically critical Ohio.

"I'll be visiting most of the swing states," he said, "and starting with the manufacturing states, trying to call attention to the need to crack down on unfair trade practices."

"It's been really interesting to see the resources here, the manufacturing base that still exists but is lying fallow," Navarro said. "I believe that cities like Milwaukee, Cleveland and Detroit can be the center of America again. Everything's here. The only thing we have lost is our competitive edge — because China is allowed to cheat."

"There are three people, or entities, who can solve this problem," Navarro said. "Two are the candidates running for president of the United States.

"But the candidates have given us nothing but platitudes. They talk about creating jobs but not about what has cost us jobs."

A line in the movie, he said, speaks volumes to the political issue: "Both parties have failed us in the same way."

"On the Republican side, we have to cut spending. The Democrats want to raise taxes. But they're both just fighting over a shrinking pie.

"If we simply had two points more in GDP (gross domestic product) growth, we wouldn't have to worry about deficits."

'We can compete,' but we must believe it

The third party that can influence a future for American manufacturing, Navarro said, is "you and I and everybody buying manufactured goods. We have to demand a stop to the human rights abuses, the environmental abuses, a stop to the stealing of our technology — and for our corporate leaders to stop giving it to them.

"What we have to understand is that we can compete. China has the highest-cost steel manufacturing processes in the world — and sells it the cheapest. You only do that through subsidies — subsidies paid every day on every order they ship."

To those who say that American companies, to compete at all, must outsource and offshore jobs to low-cost labor markets, Navarro has a answer.

"Let's find out. It's the $3 trillion question, isn't it, because that's what our China trade deficit is now."

"So we shouldn't crack down on unfair trade practices because we can't compete anyway? The way to beat cheap labor practices is to be more productive.

"Another line from the movie that stands out for me is what Chris Street says: 'We're not going to regain our place in the world by exporting. We're going to do it by regaining our market.'"


'Death by China' at the Rosebud

Thursday: Special director's screening with a brief introduction by Peter Navarro at 6:45 p.m. (run time 78 minutes), followed by a Town Hall discussion led by Navarro.

Saturday and Sunday: Film at noon

Admission: $7

Location: Rosebud Cinema Drafthouse, 6823 W. North Ave.


Peter Navarro

Author and director Peter Navarro is a professor at the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University.

Navarro is a regular contributor on CNBC and appears frequently on Bloomberg TV and radio, CNN, NPR, Marketplace and major network news shows.


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