December 01, 2003

Jobs Overseas? Another Attempt to Explain

Lew Rockwell once again debunks popular proteccionist arguments:

Now, is it a problem that American consumers (and businesses that import and sell TVs retail) have access to lower priced TVs than can be made in the US? Not at all. It is great for the buyers of TVs and it is great for the economy in general because this frees up capital and labor to be employed in better projects. To force the situation to be otherwise would imply sheer waste: deliberately raising the price of TVs by restricting supply or taxing non-US TVs. This is precisely the Bush administration policy, and it accomplishes nothing but destruction. It is only putting off the inevitable and taxing people in the process.

Then we come to the question of why it is possible to make TVs more cheaply in China than the US. It is a matter of the widening circles of the division of labor. China finds itself in a stage of economic development that allows it to specialize more and more in manufacturing at the expense of agriculture, even as the less developed nations are specializing more and more in agriculture. While this is taking place, more advanced nations are finding it economically advantageous to specialize in the production of goods and services that require more advanced labor skills and more capital expense.

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Now, some people have been drawing attention to the supposed uniqueness of the current moment in international trade, in the following sense. US companies are not just foregoing certain production processes in order to allow them to be done by the Chinese. Instead, US firms are moving their plants to China, not to sell to the Chinese, but in order to re-import their products into the US to sell.

Is this a uniquely troubling situation? Again, not at all. US business owners have observed a profit opportunity and seized it. The alternative is that US business not notice the opportunity and let others get there first. This would hardly be something to celebrate. It is a testament to the acumen of US businessmen that they can go anywhere in the world, take advantage of local economic conditions and then sell to anyone else in the world. It so happens that American consumers are in a great position to buy the best products from everywhere in the world (so long as their government lets them). Thus do we see the end result of American capital producing for Americans in countries especially suited to host the process, while the US itself hosts ever more sophisticated production.

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There is no surfeit of wonderful trends in our time, but the progress being made through global trade (progress at home and abroad) is certainly one of them. Leave it to government to try to rob us of the blessings of prosperity and peace that come from trade. And it is no different with trade than with every other area of life. We can permit the market to work or we can hobble it with taxes as it eventually gets its way in the long run. That is our choice. As Professor Shenoy would say, the free market is not perfect, but it is always better than the results that come from any attempt by government to make it better.