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Fear China?

Here’s a letter to the Detroit Free Press:

Unnecessary anxiety is stirred up by pundits, such as Mike Thompson, who bemoan China surpassing America in total annual value of manufacturing output (“China is now the world’s biggest manufacturer,” March 17).  This fact, according to Mr. Thompson, is ominous for America, not least because more output by China allegedly causes higher unemployment in the U.S.

Forget that China’s population is four times larger than America’s (meaning that Americans still produce nearly four times more manufacturing output per person than does China).  Instead recognize that most manufacturing job losses today come not from expanding trade with China or any other geopolitical region, but from advances in technology – advances in mechanization, computerization, and chemical processes.

The place to which America is losing manufacturing jobs, therefore, has no geography, although it’s very real.  Call it “Technologia.”  Technologia has a huge and growing capacity to produce and export valuable goods using ever-more skilled and numerous Technologian workers with names such as “Motor,” “Stamper,” “Robot,” “Software-program,” and “Solvent.”  These workers toil with superhuman stamina and discipline, they’re paid nothing, they receive no worker protections, and they never strike.  And Technologia’s workforce is forever learning to do, at consistently falling costs, what some American workers do.

Yet few of us worry about trade with Technologia, whose export agents keep cutting the prices they charge for the many imports we receive from that highly productive region.  With the exception of some Luddites and technophobes, we rightly celebrate our receipt of Technologia’s massive and low-cost outputs and we understand that Technologia’s exports make us richer.  Why, then, do we have a more hostile attitude toward goods and services imported from geographically identified economies such as China?

Donald J. Boudreaux


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