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People, Not Nations, Trade

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

The illustration accompanying Anatole Kaletsky’s op-ed on the alleged inadequacy of market forces to govern international trade shows U.S.-bound Chinese and Japanese cargo ships loaded down with multitudes more goods than are being carried by the much smaller Asia-bound U.S. ship (“Blaming China Won’t Help the Economy,” Sept. 27).  The insinuation, supported by Mr. Kaletsky’s essay, is that this pattern of exchange is both undesirable and will persist unless Washington intervenes more actively in international markets.

Please tell me why such a pattern of trade – with Americans routinely getting lots of imports in exchange for relatively few exports – is something to fear.  Shouldn’t we celebrate it?  If as workers we strive to exchange each hour of work for the greatest possible number of goods and services – that is, strive to import ever-more goods and services into our households for each hour of work that we export from our households – why shouldn’t we also want to get as many goods and services from foreigners in exchange for each dollar’s worth of goods and services that we sell to them?

Exports are the price of imports, just as hours worked are the price workers pay for household income.  Why should we want to pay higher prices for the goods and services that we consume?

Donald J. Boudreaux