Cartoon Economics

by Don Boudreaux on December 23, 2006

in Balance of Payments, Politics, Trade

If you want to laugh, you might watch cartoons of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote — but you don’t watch these cartoons in order to learn the laws of physics.  Indeed, if you take seriously the "physics" portrayed in these cartoons, you’ll soon kill yourself.

Likewise, if you take seriously the pronouncements on international trade issued by politicians such as U.S. Senators Byron Dorgan and Sherrod Brown, you’ll learn nothing except how utterly bizarre and cartoonish allegedly serious adults can be when discussing international trade.  (Alas, unlike Warner Bros. cartoons, politicians aren’t good for laughs, for their detachment-from-reality has serious and sad real-world consequences.)

Today’s Washington Post gives these politicians an entire op-ed column in which they parade their ignorance — ignorance of economics, of facts, and of what constitutes a serious argument.

Countless falsehoods, half-truths, non sequiturs, and irrelevancies permeate Dorgan’s and Brown’s essay.  Were I not loaded down today with lots of law-student exams to grade — and had not Greg Mankiw already tackled some of these worthies’ questionable claims — I might vent my spleen by picking apart many of these flaws.  But I’ll content myself here with pointing out that these buffoons’ fretting over the large and growing size of the U.S. trade deficit is inconsistent with their (mistaken) belief that "a global race to the bottom" is underway — a race among corporations to set up shop in low-wage, poor countries.

A large and growing U.S. trade deficit is evidence that investment capital is flowing generously into the United States rather than away from the high-wage, high-labor-standards American economy.

But what relevance do facts and logic possess when political grandstanding must be done to appease the greedy interest groups who are so vital to keeping arrogant, obnoxious, and utterly repulsive politicians in power?


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