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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Buy Team America?

“A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear. The traitor is the plague.”..Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106 BC-43 BC

Mises Daily: Thursday, August 16, 2012 by

Samuel Johnson once wrote that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," criticizing adverse policies and proposals falsely claimed to be based in patriotism. This has been most recently illustrated by the political furor over "made-in-China" Team USA uniforms. Many politicians asserted that it was un-American, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saying those uniforms should be burned.

Supposedly patriotic pressures to mandate "buying American" sprang up immediately, and Ralph Lauren quickly capitulated, promising to "go and sin no more."

While some of the details of this flap are unusual, protectionism dressed up as patriotism follows a well-worn script.

Imports are found to cause some domestic harm. Given that those imports harm competing domestic producers, "Buy American" or some other version of protectionism is put forth as the patriotic response (with the producers seeking protection from superior competitors leading the patriotism bandwagon). The Team USA version simply exploits the Olympics' peak in pro-American sentiment and symbolism to make the same case (though it makes no more sense than requiring that we grow our own coffee and bananas for our athletes).

The problem is that imports always harm competing domestic producers, so that the patriotism argument can always be used as political cover whenever any domestic producers get the government's ear. And there are always politicians ready to listen.

One person who recognized the abuses and illogic of this approach was Leonard Read. In particular, his chapter "Buy American," in Having My Way (1974), lays out a better way to approach the issue.
The admonition to "Buy American" has two diametrically opposed meanings. The first is its popular and mischievous meaning — shun goods produced in foreign countries. The second, and loftier meaning embodied in these words, is rarely mentioned or thought of — shun principles and practices alien to the American dream of limited government and personal freedom.

Producers who plead with consumers to "Buy American" are appealing to blind patriotism. Buy my product because it is made here; heed not its price or quality. This is sheer chauvinism. Suppose I were to urge your acceptance of my ideas, rather than those of Marx or Machiavelli, merely because of our differing nationalities. The absurdity of such an appeal is obvious: neither goods nor ideas are properly judged in this fashion; geographical origin has nothing to do with the matter.
Read points out that that the traditional use of "Buy American" is to justify some citizens beggaring their own neighbors, rather than something that advances any sensible interpretation of our general welfare. However, there is an interpretation that does advance our general welfare. Don't buy (i.e., accept and make use of) actions that violate the American principle of freedom to choose your own productive associations, as long as you don't violate the common, inalienable rights of others.
Read more>>Buy Team America? - Gary Galles