To Repeat: Imports are Benefits and Exports are Costs

by Don Boudreaux on August 7, 2017

in Myths and Fallacies, Trade

Here’s a letter that I sent last week to the Wall Street Journal:

Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross is correct that many foreign governments are more vigorous at obstructing their citizens’ freedom to trade than is Uncle Sam at obstructing Americans’ freedom to trade (“Free-Trade is a Two-Way Street,” August 1).  But Mr. Ross has at least two matters completely backwards.

First, those who are principally harmed by obstructions to trade imposed by foreign governments are not Americans but, rather, the citizens of those countries.  For example, forced to fund the export subsidies that expand Americans’ consumption options, foreign taxpayers’ consumption options shrink.  Second, people grow richer as they gain access to increasing amounts of goods, services, and inputs.  Therefore, to obstruct the flow of valuable goods, services, and inputs into our economy simply because other governments obstruct the flow of valuable goods, services, and inputs into their economies is to handicap our economy simply because other governments are handicapping theirs.

If Mr. Ross were a physician who practiced medicine according to the same philosophy that guides his trade policy, he would break his patient’s perfectly healthy leg simply because, in an industrial mishap, his patient’s neighbor broke hers.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030


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