The call to “buy American” is one we hear frequently or see plastered on the bumper of the car in front of us. Donald Boudreaux, senior economics advisor at Mercatus Center, explains the problem with this ideal in a letter to the Washington Post:
Let’s make a deal. Government will agree to protect only those American workers and small-business owners who in return agree to stop buying foreign-made products.
For example, American steel workers will get protection from steel imports only if they, in exchange, agree to stop buying the likes of Toyota cars, Samsung televisions, Ryobi hand tools, Ikea furniture, Shell gasoline, Amstel beer, vacations to Cancun, and musical recordings by foreign artists such as the Beatles, Elton John, and k.d. Lang. They must also promise to stop buying the likes of bananas, cinnamon, and vanilla and, indeed, even American-made food items if these are shipped to their favorite restaurants and supermarkets in foreign-made trucks – or in trucks equipped with tires made by Michelin, Bridgestone, or some other job-destroying foreign company. These workers would be permitted to drink only Hawaiian coffee; they must quit drinking the Colombian, Guatemalan, and Ethiopian coffees that they’ve become accustomed to drink. Oh, and absolutely no diamond jewelry, as those gems come from Africa. (Sorry, ladies.)
Small-business owners likewise will get such protection, but only in return for their agreement not only to stop consuming foreign-made products, but also to never sell their outputs to non-Americans. These businesses must, in addition, promise to use in their operations only American-made inputs – such as aluminum, wood, chemicals, and insurance services – even when foreign-made substitutes are available at lower prices or in higher qualities.