Buy American Will Destroy Jobs, Not Create Them
This Buy American momentum is bad economics, and by threatening to destabilize trade and capital flows, it risks turning a global recession into a 1930s-style depression.
Suppose that we did not allow free trade between the 50 American states. Citizens like me in New Jersey would be far worse off if we could not buy pineapples from Hawaii, wine and vegetables from California, wheat from Kansas, and oil from Texas and Louisiana while we sell pharmaceuticals to the rest of the country. The specialization that trade makes possible allows all of us to live better.
The situation is the same with respect to world trade. Both we and the Chinese are better off if we can import inexpensive clothing from China and sell them large-scale computers and data storage equipment.
Since the U.S. is the biggest exporter in the world, retaliation could cost America more jobs than the provision would create. It could also destabilize the global capital flows on which the U.S. depends to fund its deficits. Moreover, the provision could delay some shovel-ready infrastructure projects, since sufficient American-made materials may not be immediately available. The U.S. does not manufacture enough steel to meet domestic demand.
In 1930, just as the world economy was sinking as it is today, the U.S. Congress passed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which essentially shut off imports into the U.S. Our trading partners retaliated, and world trade plummeted. Most economic historians now conclude that the tariff contributed importantly to the severity of the world-wide Great Depression.
Buy American provisions and other forms of protectionism will destroy jobs, not create them. They are an irresponsible and self-defeating response to a downturn in world economic activity.
~Burton Malkiel in today's WSJ
From a recent CD post:
"Buy American" provisions under consideration in Congress as part of a huge economic stimulus bill could create only 1,000 new steel industry jobs and might cost as many as 65,000 across a number of sectors, according to a new study from the Peterson Institute for International Economics.