More on the Economic Irrelevance of Political Borders

by Don Boudreaux on June 9, 2011

in Seen and Unseen, Subsidies, Trade

Writing about the economically unjustified Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program in today’s Washington Post, George Will gets it exactly right about the nature of that lamentable program.  Here’s the heart of the column:

A government borrowing $58,000 a second cannot afford Obama’s policy of Stimulus Forever, and there is this problem with TAA at any level: It is unjust to treat some workers as more entitled than others to protection from the vicissitudes of economic dynamism.

Consider a hypothetical Ralph, who operated Ralph’s Diner until Applebee’s and Olive Garden opened competitors in the neighborhood. With economies of scale and national advertising budgets, those two franchises could offer more choices at better prices, so Ralph’s Diner went out of business. Should he and his employees be entitled to extra taxpayer subventions because they are casualties of competition?

Why should someone be entitled to such welfare just because he or she is affected negatively by competition that comes from abroad rather than down the street? Because national trade policy permits foreign competition? But national economic policy permits — indeed encourages, even enforces — domestic competition.

In 2001, when approximately 80,000 people worked in 7,500 music stores, the iPod was invented. Largely because of that and other technological changes, today only about 20,000 people work in 2,500 music stores. Should those 60,000 people be entitled to extra welfare because they are “victims” of technology? Does it matter if the 60,000 have found work in new jobs — perhaps making or selling electronic devices?

In 2008, Americans bought 1.4 billion books made of paper and 200 million e-books. Soon they will buy more e-books than paper books, and half the nation’s bookstores will be gone. Should the stores’ former employees be entitled to special assistance beyond unemployment compensation?


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