by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Gene Epstein suggests the answer might be yes. His latest “Economic Beat” column for Barron’s takes both major-party presidential candidates to task for their recent debate remarks on the issue of global trade.
On the subject of global trade, both flunked Adam Smith 101. In 1776, in his magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations, Smith established the case for free trade. “It is the maxim of every prudent … family never to attempt to make at home what it will cost … more to make than to buy,” he wrote. “What is prudence in the conduct of every private family, can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom.”
Well, 236 years later, the president of our great kingdom boasted on national TV about having taken measures to ensure that “China was not flooding our domestic market with cheap tires,” claiming that he thereby saved “1,000 jobs.” He paid his challenger an inadvertent compliment by calling him “the last person who’s going to get tough on China.” Countering this calumny, Romney promised “tariffs where I believe that they [the Chinese] are taking unfair advantage of our manufacturers.”
Remarking on this intellectual race to the bottom, George Mason University economics professor Donald Boudreaux finds even more potential common ground between the candidates. “If creating more jobs in U.S. tire factories justifies forcing consumers to pay higher prices for tires,” writes Boudreaux, “the … administration should also outlaw the sale of used tires (which, like low-priced imports, are ‘flooding our domestic market’).” The George Mason economist proposed “legislation mandating that all rubber used to make tires be non-vulcanized,” because “the resulting decline in tire durability will create even more jobs in U.S. tire factories.” Both candidates “should agree that such policies would be positively wonderful for the economy.”