≡ Menu

Preposterous ‘Understanding’ of Trade

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:


Contrary to your implication, the real story of Sen. Kamala Harris’s comment, during the recent debate, about trade is not any implied criticism that she might have made of President Trump’s private parts. Instead, it’s Sen. Harris’s express endorsement of Mr. Trump’s fundamental misconception about trade. She offered this endorsement when she declared “Look, we need to sell our stuff” (Notable & Quotable, Sept. 14).

Like the president, Sen. Harris mistakenly fails to understand that the ultimate purpose of trade is best summarized, not by the phrase that she used, but instead by the phrase “Look, we need to buy their stuff.”

Selling stuff is a means; the end is to acquire stuff. Put differently, exporting – despite its undeniable value – is valuable only because, and only insofar as, it enables us to increase the amounts that we import. The more we must export to receive a given amount of imports, the poorer we become. In contrast, the less we export to receive a given amount of imports the richer we become. In an ideal world for us Americans, our docks would groan daily beneath mountains of new imports without our having to export as much as a lint ball.

Unfortunately for us, foreigners will send us their exports only if we send them ours. Even more unfortunately for us, every prominent political “leader” today possesses an understanding of trade that is as shallow, as hollow, and as preposterous as that possessed by Donald Trump.

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