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Who Is We?

Here’s a letter to one of my favorite radio personalities:

Mr. Tony Kornheiser
The Tony Kornheiser Show
ESPN Radio

Dear Mr. Kornheiser:

Your show is great.  And while I realize that your chief goal is to be humorous, your monologue yesterday – lamenting that “we Americans don’t make things any more” and filled with genuine worry about America being largely a service economy – demands a response.

First, it’s untrue that Americans “don’t make things any more.”  If you go to this Census Bureau website you’ll discover that U.S. industries produce lots of “things,” such as aircraft, pharmaceuticals, communications equipment, surgical instruments, sporting goods – the list is very, very long.

More importantly, the locations and nationalities of various producers are irrelevant.  You make your living by writing and talking about sports.  The Kornheiser family truly doesn’t “make things.”  You earn an income by specializing in what you do best, and you use that income to purchase from persons outside of your household all the many “things” that you consume.  As a result, you’re quite prosperous.

What’s true for the plural pronoun “we” used to describe the Kornheiser household is no less true for the plural pronoun “we” used to describe America.  We Americans do indeed buy lots of things from non-Americans – a fact that is no more worrying than is the fact that, as you might say, “we Kornheisers don’t make things any more and, instead, buy all of our things from non-Kornheisers.”

Donald J. Boudreaux


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