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David Harsanyi: ‘Buy American’ Rhetoric Is Un-American

Even if the sentiment of the DNC's Debbie Wasserman Schultz were genuine, it would be misguided

By David Harsanyi |

Buy American! A conventional, well-intentioned, patriotically affirming sentiment. We’ve heard it all our lives. But unless you crave less competition, fewer choices and higher prices, it’s also a completely irrational one.

Naturally, then, as we kick off “Recovery Summer! Part Deux,” the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee says that buying homemade cars is a matter of national importance. “If it were up to the candidates for president on the Republican side, we would be driving foreign cars,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz explained while defending the protectionist auto/union bailout. “They would have let the auto industry in America go down the tubes.” (And by “we,” Wasserman Schultz, proud American, is talking about herself and her sweet Japanese-made Infiniti FX35.)

As if that weren’t enough, those who oppose this brand of corporate welfare, according to Wasserman Schultz, also reject the very idea of “American exceptionalism.” Now, one might argue that those who claim we must bankroll a few politically favored companies because an entire manufacturing sector could collapse are the ones skeptical of American ingenuity, perseverance and exceptionalism.

But God, evidently, loves the Volt and the Volt only. And Americans — people who can do almost anything, including, but not limited to, electing politicians who keep rotten companies buoyant for political gain — have a patriotic duty to buy poorly conceived automobiles.

You have an obligation to insulate Washington’s favorite companies from responsibility. For God and for country, taxpayers must purchase cars from corporations that have not come close — despite the contention of the administration — to paying back what they already owe you.

But hey, the car was assembled in Michigan. If that’s not a sign of American exceptionalism, I don’t know what is.

Even if Wasserman Schultz’s “Buy American” rhetoric were genuine, it would be severely misguided. Every time we overpay for an American-made product (whatever it is), don’t we also spend less on an array of other services and products that create jobs at home? Real jobs. Self-sustaining jobs. If we all mechanically bought American, wouldn’t we allow manufacturers to avoid competition and rely on their locations rather than the excellence of their products? Sounds like the opposite of exceptionalism.

Companies on the dole also have incentive to please their benefactors in Washington — a place that has the power to offer more handouts or to stifle competition. Like much of modern liberalism these days, a socially responsible outcome is far more important than a profitable one. Business is for social good, not for profit-mongering. We have no clue what’s good for us, anyway. These companies, though, have less incentive to keep prices low or to innovate or to meet consumer demand.

Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman once explained in his book Pop Internationalism that if he could stress one thing to students, it would be that “international trade is not about competition, it is about mutually beneficial exchange.”

Wasserman Schultz is bright, so she must know all about the counterproductive history of protectionism. Then again, when she says “Buy American,” maybe she just means “Buy Union” — buy union because taxpayers subsidize GM and it pays workers and they subsidize unions that subsidize the right candidates. A mutually beneficial exchange.

Or maybe — like most Americans, however inclined they are to embrace populist rhetoric regarding trade during tough times — Wasserman Schultz acts rationally when spending her own money. Now if only that rationality could seep into her political life, we’d be a lot better off.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Blaze. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him. Follow him on Twitter: @davidharsanyi.




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» on 06.03.11 @ 02:29 PM

It’s not a matter of buying American or not, but allowing our American manufacturing sector to be able to compete. What Wassermann does not say is that it is her party’s obstructionist domestic production labor and environmental laws that make making anything in the states uncompetitive. Add to that the blind allegiance on the right to so called “free trade” and you have this double whammy that ensures we make nothing we consume.

The auto industry pays too much for too little in labor and is besieged by a regulatory climate no other country without protectionist trade laws does. The European continent protects and covets its manufacturing making it nearly impossible for any outsider to break into their domestic market. Their regulations are quite a bit worse than ours but their trade laws are very protectionist.

No Dave the answer is not whether we “buy American” or not but whether we as Americans are willing to allow ourselves to compete. We cannot compete if our trade laws allow foreign manufacturing to import into this country without having the playing field level. And that my friend is the rub. If we tax imports to level the playing field costs go up dramatically.

So you have the conundrum the government faces, protect our most valuable and greatest source of wealth generation, manufacturing, and basically price all goods and services out of reach thus killing consumerism, or cut taxes, regulations and other obstructionist law allowing better domestic competition and run the risk of safety problems, worker abuse and environmental pollution or continue down our borrow and spend path until we are broke and impoverished. Go ahead, pick one.

» on 06.03.11 @ 04:02 PM

The term, “Buy American,” as expressed here is a misnomer, though undoubtably there may be some truth to some of what is said about protectionism.  The buy American theme is thought of mainly as a call for consumers to favor U.S.-based business so they don’t fold and and disappear.  A very difficult thing to do when your government has no interest in helping businesses thrive competitively with other global interests.  The short-sightedness of it all is, if the industrial base is allowed to expire, that we will be wholely dependent upon other countries to get what we need.  Not a very sound strategy if you ask me.  Aside from the fact that it severely limits upward mobility in our society.  I would call it anything but Un-American.

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