Maddeningly Misinformed

by Don Boudreaux on November 22, 2006

in Trade

I write lots of letters to editors of newspapers and magazines.  It’s therapeutic.  To maximize a letter’s chances of being published, each one should be kept to as few words as possible — almost never more than 150 words (and, better yet, many fewer).  This tight space constraint means that a letter can seldom make more than one point.

This space constraint is really painful in replying to this letter in today’s Wall Street Journal by Senator Byron Dorgan.  So much misunderstanding is packed into Sen. Dorgan’s missive that at least a dozen letters in response are necessary to cover its major flaws.  But I have time only to write one letter.

First, here’s Sen. Dorgan’s letter:

Alan Murray’s column ("Two Books, Two Different Democratic Tones," Nov. 8) about my book "Take This Job and Ship It" complains that it isn’t upbeat and optimistic.

Well, he’s right about
that! My book takes on the $800 billion-a-year, out-of-control trade
deficits. It looks behind the economic numbers to understand what is
happening to American workers who are being told to compete with
workers in other parts of the world who will work for pennies an hour.
My book pulls back the curtain on incompetent trade agreements that
sell our country short by paving the way for outsourcing American jobs
and running up crushing trade deficits. It’s hard to find optimism in
that kind of failure.

Mr. Murray especially
takes issue with my noting that the largest U.S. export, by volume, is
waste paper. He wonders of what value it is to cite that information. I
think it is symbolic of our trade failure that we ship waste paper to
China and the rest of Asia so they can make cardboard boxes with which
to ship back their finished products to the U.S. By the way, our
current annual trade deficit with China alone is over $200 billion a
year. That’s a lot of cardboard boxes.

I respect those who
disagree with my views on trade. But I believe the current path is
unsustainable. These trade deficits will have significant and dangerous
consequences to our economy and our future. That doesn’t mean we should
retreat into a protectionist strategy. But we should recognize that we
are engaged with smart, tough economic competitors, and it’s long past
the time for us to insist that the rules of trade be fair to our
country, to our workers and to our businesses.

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D., N.D.)
Washington

And here’s the letter that I sent in response to this casserole of misunderstanding:

22 November 2006

Editor, The Wall Street Journal
200 Liberty Street
New York, NY 10281

Dear Editor:

Troubled
by the fact that America’s largest export, by volume, is waste paper,
Sen. Byron Dorgan thinks that "it is symbolic of our trade failure that
we ship waste paper to China and the rest of Asia so they can make
cardboard boxes with which to ship back their finished products to the
U.S" (Letters, Nov. 22).

I wonder if Sen. Dorgan has ever heard
the riddle – and here I paraphrase – "What’s more valuable?  A dollar’s
worth of waste paper or a dollar’s worth of consumer electronics?"

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux 

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