Walter E. Williams

There's a growing anti-trade sentiment in our country. Much of the dialogue is grossly misinformed. Let's try to untangle it a bit with a few questions and observations. First, does the U.S. trade with Japan and England? Put another way, is it members of the U.S. Congress trading with their counterparts in the Japanese Diet or the English Parliament? An affirmative answer is pure nonsense. When I purchased my Lexus, I had nothing to do with either the Japanese Diet or the U.S. Congress. Through an intermediary, a Lexus dealer, I dealt with Toyota Motor Corporation.

While it might be convenient to speak of one country trading with another, such aggregation can conceal a lot of evil, particularly when people call for trade barriers. For example, what would be a moral case for third-party interference, by either the Japanese Diet or the U.S. Congress, with an exchange between me and Toyota Motor Corporation? Some might reason that since Japan places restrictions on U.S. products entering their country, an appropriate retaliatory measure is not to allow Japanese products to freely enter the U.S. By the way, Japanese protectionist restrictions on rice imports force Japanese consumers to pay three or four times the world price for rice. How much sense does it make for Congress to retaliate against Japan by imposing restrictions on their products thereby forcing American consumers, say Lexus buyers, to pay higher prices? Should our rule be: If one country screws its citizens we should retaliate by screwing our citizens?

Since there is no moral argument for preventing one person from trading with another, anti-traders shift their argument to a patriotic appeal such as suggesting that we're losing our manufacturing sector. That doesn't square with the facts. According to a report given by Dr. William Strauss, senior economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, titled "Is U.S. Losing Its Manufacturing Base?" the answer is no. In each of the past 60 years, U.S. manufacturing output growth has averaged 4 percent and productivity growth has averaged 3 percent. Manufacturing is going through the same process as agriculture. In 1900, 41 percent of American workers were employed in agriculture; today, only 2 percent are and agricultural output is greater. In 1940, 35 percent of workers were employed in manufacturing jobs; today, it's about 10 percent. Again, because of huge productivity gains, manufacturing output is greater.


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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