Commenting on my celebration of window screens, machine-woven fabrics, laundry detergent, and the countless other quotidian marvels that constitute our modern prosperity, you ask rhetorically “And yet we will be better off if we continue to dismantle our capacity to make all these marvelous monuments to human creativity?”
Who’s the “we”? Humanity’s capacity to make all these marvelous monuments to human creativity certainly hasn’t been dismantled. The reality is quite the opposite, as proven by the fact that these goods and services are today more abundant and inexpensive than at any time in human history.
You’ll say that the “we” is Americans – to which I say that our capacity as Americans to make all these marvels has emphatically not been dismantled. We do make them, sometimes directly and other times in a roundabout way. But always we make them. As the economist David Friedman points out, we Americans have an ingenious machine for transforming the corn that we grow in Iowa into automobiles that we drive. That machine is called a “cargo ship.” Into the ship we put corn and, a few days later, out of the ship comes automobiles. We make cars by making corn. This production process is akin to every other production process: mix various inputs together to produce something different and greater than the sum of its parts.
I anticipate one of your questions: How can we trust non-Americans to keep shipping and selling to us cars and other goods for the things that we ship and sell to them? I answer that these non-Americans depend as much on us for what we sell to them as we are on them for what they sell to us. If they stop shipping goods to us they stop getting goods from us. And then I ask you: Do you – a thoroughgoing believer that foreigners are forever scheming to export excessively large quantities of goods to us – really believe that foreigners will suddenly stop wanting to export goods to us Americans?
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030