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Another Open Letter to Sen. Sherrod Brown

[John Stossel and his team at Fox Business tried to get Sen. Brown to publicly debate trade with me.  Brown refused, alleging that I’m an unworthy opponent.]

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)
United States Senate
Washington, DC

Dear Sen. Brown:

How disappointing that you refuse to debate trade with me in a public forum.  If I am, as you allege, too “ideological” on matters of trade, then surely you – a member of the world’s greatest deliberative body – will have no trouble mopping the debate floor with me.

But if your letter in the March 25 Wall Street Journal is evidence of the strength of your case, I frankly do understand why you refuse to appear in public to defend protectionism.  After all…

… the facts show that, contrary to your claim, American manufacturing needs no “rebuilding”; it’s not in decline;

… even if American manufacturing were in decline, so what?  American workers who produce $1,000 worth of, say, the service-sector output called “biomedical research” or “web design” generate as much value as do workers who produce $1,000 worth of the manufacturing-sector output called “#10 nails” or “t-shirts”;

… if Beijing is promoting Chinese exports by devaluing the renminbi, then it is inflicting harmful inflation on the Chinese economy as it simultaneously subsidizes Americans’ consumption; these consumption subsidies are especially beneficial to poorer Americans who spend larger shares of their incomes on Chinese-made goods than do richer Americans; why do you wish to deny poorer Americans the opportunity to stretch their dollars as far as possible?

… a chief reason why America’s bilateral trade deficit with China has, as you report, increased over the past ten years by 170 percent is that you and your fellow members of Congress have during that time irresponsibly spent far more than you received in tax revenues; so you had to borrow.  Frankly, it’s the height of hypocrisy for you to be a member of a chorus that sings, with one breath, of the purportedly “stimulating” effects of deficit spending, and then, with your next breath, screams shrill and atonal chants about how malicious it is for foreigners to be among Uncle Sam’s creditors.

Debating in favor of a proposition like protectionism that has neither facts nor reason – and also, by the way, not a smidgen of morality – in its favor is indeed an unattractive prospect.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030