What Galileo Must Have Felt

by Don Boudreaux on January 18, 2007

in Trade

When I read or hear protectionists such as Sen. Byron Dorgan, I think that I can imagine what Galileo felt as he listened to the Leaders of his day insist that the sun revolves around the earth.

Appearing just below is part of Sen. Dorgan’s letter published in today’s Wall Street Journal:

There is a growing
public sense that blind support for unfettered "free trade" in
Washington has cost our country dearly. It just the past four years our
already massive trade deficits have nearly doubled, to well over $800
billion a year. And we have lost over three million manufacturing jobs.
So it is not a surprise that in the November election, a number of new
Democratic senators ran winning races on a platform of changing the
course on trade policy.

Congress must reclaim
its role in formulating trade policy. The Constitution gives Congress,
not the president, the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations.
We relinquish that authority to the president, in the form of so-called
"fast track" trade authority, at our peril. I opposed granting such
authority to President Clinton, and I opposed granting it to President
Bush in 2002 (and so, by the way, did a majority congressional
Democrats). The past five years of growing trade deficits have shown
that our opposition to fast track and to unfair trade agreements was

I’ve written in this cyberspace more than enough on why fears of the trade deficit are overblown — and why such a "deficit" in no way justifies protectionism.

Here’s a letter that I sent in response to Sen. Dorgan’s missive:

To the Editor:

to discredit free trade, Sen. Byron Dorgan resorts to tired rhetorical
tricks (Letters, Jan. 18).  For example, he complains about the loss of
manufacturing jobs.  In fact, though, most of these job losses are due
to automation that increases workers’ productivity.  As economies
advance, the loss of manufacturing jobs is no more surprising or
regrettable than was our loss over the past few centuries of
agricultural jobs or our earlier loss of hunter-gatherer jobs.

Sen. Dorgan calls free-traders "blind."  It is much closer to the truth to call protectionists antediluvian.

Donald J. Boudreaux

Also, the Cato Institute’s Dan Griswold has Dorgan’s number.  For example, discussing Sen. Dorgan’s book on trade, Dan writes that:

As a nation grows wealthier, the share of the workforce in
agriculture invariably falls and the share in the service sector rises.
The share in manufacturing typically rises and then falls. According to
the World Bank, countries with the lowest share of the work force in
the service sector include Uganda, Vietnam, Romania, Sri Lanka,
Indonesia, and Mongolia. Countries with the highest share in the
service sector include, along with the United States, Sweden,
Switzerland, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, and Luxembourg. The first group
is among the poorest nations, the second among the richest. Apparently
one goal of Dorganomics would be to shift America from the rich group
to the poor group.

In a typical flourish of hyperbole, the senator warns that “our
manufacturing base is shrinking.” But here the senator confuses jobs
with output. America’s manufacturing base has been both growing and
changing. American factories are producing more aircraft and
pharmaceuticals, more sophisticated machinery and semiconductors, more
chemicals and even more passenger vehicles and parts than a decade ago.
In fact, America’s factories are currently cranking out 50 percent more
stuff by volume than they did in the early 1990s, before NAFTA and the
World Trade Organization came into being. They can produce more with
fewer workers because manufacturing productivity has been growing so


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