An ABC News report last night had a reporter investigating all the t-shirts being sold by Republican presidential candidates. As it turns out, most of them are not made in the U.S. This is hardly surprising, since over 90% of our clothing is imported in this country. But apparently when you run for the office of the President, you are held to a higher standard than trying to use your political donations efficiently. Herman Cain defended himself by saying he bought them from Fruit of the Loom, an American company. Newt Gingrich just looked confused. Rick Santorum lamented the results of free trade: that we produce fewer of some goods and more of others.
Then there’s Ron Paul. He didn’t back down, saying that markets should decide these things. That’s why people who support Ron Paul don’t just like him — they love him. He doesn’t cave to outside pressure and he has principles he doesn’t just talk about — he actually practices them. Global trade makes us better off. Sure, we get most of our clothing from China, but we also export most of our cotton to China. We do what we’re good at, they do what they’re good at, and in th eend we’re both better off. People who are offended that a presidential candidate does not buy American clothing are pointing at the American clothing industry but ignoring other industries that might be impacted negatively if we stopped importing Chinese clothing. Since we lifted import quotas on Chinese clothing in 2005, clothing prices have plummeted. Clothing prices have been falling for a decade, and that can’t be said for any other consumer product. (While computers get cheaper, they also get better and that keeps their prices stable; sure, adjusted for quality they are cheaper, but the CPI doesn’t accurately adjust for quality.) Prices of clothing at Walmart are ridiculously cheap — which is great for the poorest among us. But to believe ABC News, low clothing prices for poor people isn’t patriotic. It’s only jobs in one industry that matter because their news report is on that one industry. But what about other industries?
Remember back in September of 2009 when President Obama imposed tariffs on all Chinese-produced car and light truck tires? Usually tariffs are imposed on a specific product, not a specific country. Some economists, myself included, argued this was not a good idea as it would likely lead to the Chinese to impose retaliatory tariffs on our exports at a time when that was the only sector of the economy that was actually thriving. Especially with a tariff that is so specifically targeted to piss off one country.
As it turns out, I was right for once. China responded by putting tariffs on U.S. chicken. That’s right, chicken. And now the chicken industry in the U.S. is in dire straits, losing $.12 on every pound produced. Their tariffs have reduced our exports of U.S. chicken to China by 85%. So if you work in the chicken industry in the U.S., and you lose your job because of Chinese tariffs on our chicken exports, at least you can feel good that someone at Goodyear Tires still has their job.
There is a reason that growth expands when transportation costs fall. Free trade is a good thing. Sure, you can look at one market and see how it is impacted negatively by free trade, whether it’s U.S. clothing or U.S. tires. But what’s harder to see is all the jobs created in other markets as a result of free trade. U.S. chicken relies significantly on the ability to export its products. Other products made in the U.S., like tablet computers, vacations, etc., are only possible when we have more disposable income to spend. All the money we save on clothing and tires means we have more money to spend on these other things, and jobs are created there. Everyone wants free trade in every product but the one they produce, but if we all did that we wouldn’t have all the benefits of free trade.
You don’t abandon principles because someone with a microphone and a camera points out that someone might be impacted negatively by those principles. Ron Paul knows that. Many Tea Party members know that too, and stick to their principles whether someone calls them racists or terrorists. As the saying goes: if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything. And if all you stand for is doing whatever is politically expedient to get elected or maintain a high approval rating while in office, the country is eventually worse as a result.