February 12, 2001
"Buy American," Unless...
Members of Congress often encourage us to "buy American" during their speeches on the House floor. Some members regularly place a "buy American" clause in various trade-related bills, seeking to protect domestic jobs by encouraging the purchase of American goods. Ironically, however, many of these same legislators vote to prohibit American companies from gaining access to new markets overseas. They do so by supporting our senseless embargo policies, which simply help our foreign trading competitors at the expense of American companies.
Of course most politicians claim that they support free trade. Intuitively, most Americans understand that access to foreign markets provides significant benefits to US citizens and American-based corporations. However, we continue to pursue a policy of denying or restricting domestic companies from selling to Cuba, Iraq, Iran, China, and other countries. This inconsistency is especially evident when we consider "export financing," which really is foreign aid designed to help other countries buy American goods. Most Washington politicians support the practice of export financing, arguing that access to foreign markets benefits American companies, and not just foreign consumers. However, the opposite argument is made with regard to our embargo policies. Suddenly, increased trade with countries some want to label as unworthy only benefits sinister foreign consumers, and not domestic producers. This nonsensical position is maintained by many in government who favor government-managed trade which benefits certain chosen special interests.
Conflicting and inconsistent views on trade policy result largely from a lack of understanding of basic economic principles. Free trade is not a zero-sum game where some countries benefit and others inevitably suffer. On the contrary, true free trade by definition benefits both parties. Free trade is the process of free people engaging in market activity without government interference such as tariffs or managed-trade agreements. In a true free market, individuals and companies do business voluntarily, which means they believe they will be better off as a result of a transaction. Tariffs, taxes, and duties upset the balance, because governments add costs to the calculation which make doing business less attractive. Similarly, so-called managed trade agreements like WTO favor certain business interests and trading nations over others, which reduces the mutual benefit inherent in true free trade.
The ultimate result of our embargo policies is obvious: when our government prevents American companies from selling their goods abroad, it creates an economic hardship for those companies and their employees. Similarly, when the government prevents American consumers from buying the goods or services they want from certain countries, it simply diminishes the living standards of those Americans. Washington intervention in international trade only benefits certain special interests for a short time. In the long run, the vast majority of American citizens and businesses would benefit from unfettered access to all foreign markets. An example is the relatively unregulated software industry, where American companies absolutely dominate the global marketplace. Americans don't need help competing, but they do need a government which does not hinder their access to foreign markets. By following the current policy of government-managed trade and special interest favoritism, Congress is harming the constituents it was elected to represent. The sooner we adopt policies which promote free exchange with all nations, the better off our nation and its people will be.