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My Challenge to Josh Hawley Remains Unmet

Here’s a follow-up letter to “proud Trump man” Nolan McKinney:

Mr. McKinney:

I recently challenged Sen. Josh Hawley “to explain why jobs lost as a result of Americans choosing to save labor by using technological innovations are different than are jobs lost as a result of Americans choosing to save labor by trading with non-Americans.”

You’re “stunned” that I “miss the obvious answer” to my challenge. In your view, the obvious answer is that “the innovators of labor saving products mentioned” in my  letter “are all Americans.” And these Americans, you go on to say, “spent more because their inventions made them millions.”

It’s true that the innovators mentioned in my letter are all Americans. But I’m stunned at what you find to be relevant about this fact.

Contrary to your claim, the gains that we Americans enjoyed because of labor-saving innovations from the likes of Cyrus McCormick, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs did not arise from the resulting increase in the spending power of these men. These men’s contributions to economic growth are their innovations, not the additional incomes they were able to spend as a result of their successes.

Americans would have benefitted from these innovations no less had each of these successful men been misers and spent not a cent more than they would have spent had they been unsuccessful. (Actually, Americans would have benefitted even more had these successful men been misers. I leave it to you to figure out why.)

Note also this important fact: the benefits that McCormick, Edison, Gates, and Jobs bestow on humanity are not limited to Americans. Among the beneficiaries are people across the globe. And non-Americans benefit for the very same reasons that Americans do – reasons that include the enormous saving of labor that such innovations make possible.

If your claim were correct, then you must also believe that no one outside of the U.S. ever benefitted from the innovations of these (or any other) Americans. And you must further believe that no Americans ever benefitted from, say, the printing press. Gutenberg, after all, wasn’t an American and he never spent money in America. Ditto for the wheel, the lever, the pulley, the bucket, the axe, and the domestication of horses, oxen, and dogs. The now-unknown inventors of these amazing labor-saving techniques weren’t American and they spent no money here.

Likewise, you must believe that the only benefits Americans enjoyed from the likes of the invention of the steam engine, the flush toilet, and the electric battery came from whatever American exports their non-American inventors might have bought rather than from the great saving in labor made possible by their creativity.

My challenge to Sen. Hawley remains unmet.

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