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Will Someone Please Develop an App to Protect Us From Protectionists?

Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:

Greg Sargent writes about Sen. Sherrod Brown’s effort to penalize Americans who buy imports from China that “The bill would give the U.S. government trade tools to more easily combat currency manipulation, which could lead to higher tariffs against China….  [M]any groups on the left want it to pass as part of their push to revitalize manufacturing” [“Ratcheting up pressure on GOP (and Obama) over China,” Sept. 20].

If manufacturing in America really does need to be “revitalized” – and if it’s appropriate for government to try to engineer that revitalization by preventing Americans from buying low-priced products that ‘destroy’ manufacturing jobs – then Sen. Brown should attack not only Americans who buy from China but, also, Americans who download apps onto their smart phones.

The number of traditional manufactured products now being made obsolete by apps is staggering.  Rolodexes, radios, cameras, wristwatches, alarm clocks, calculators, compact discs, DVDs, carpenters’ levels, tape-measures, tape recorders, blood-pressure monitors, cardiographs, flashlights, photo albums, file cabinets, as well as paper and ink for the likes of maps and calendars and notepads and books and envelopes and airline tickets and newspapers – these are among the many items whose manufacture is rapidly being rendered unnecessary by inexpensive apps.

Does Sen. Brown believe that apps – many of which can be downloaded for free (!) – harm America’s economy?  Does he hurl accusations at app developers?  Does he wish to punitively tax Americans who download apps?  If not, why does he imagine that America’s economy needs protection from Chinese actions that bestow the very same blessings on America’s economy as those bestowed by app developers – namely, a lowering of Americans’ costs of acquiring the services of manufactured goods?

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