Yet nobody in Washington seems to care about this disease of chronic profligacy, and COVID-19 has only made things worse. As economist John Cochrane of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution rightly notes, the pandemic response “resembles a sequence of million-dollar bets by non-socially distanced drunks at a secretly reopened bar: I’ll spend a trillion dollars! No, I’ll spend two trillion dollars! That anyone has to pay for this is un-mentioned.”
When governance becomes a matter of administrative assertion rather than legislative deliberation, politics becomes a matter of power rather than persuasion. The administrative state demoralizes citizens, in both senses of the word.
Their shared goal of reducing trade in medical supplies by forcing more of them to be made domestically rests on a false assumption: that sourcing a significant share of those supplies from abroad somehow undermines our ability to secure what is necessary during public health emergencies. In fact, trade and an open US economy enhance our health security by expanding and diversifying our range of suppliers in a time of need.
Americans are not overly dependent on foreign medical supplies and PPE by any reasonable measure. Yes, we import billions of dollars’ worth of medical supplies, drugs, and active pharmaceutical ingredients each year, but we also export a lot and produce even more domestically. An April study by the St. Louis Federal Reserve found that the United States produces 70 percent of the kinds of medical equipment demanded domestically to combat COVID-19. Such equipment includes sterile gloves, medical protective clothing, protective goggles, and masks, as well as devices used to treat infected patients, such as ventilators, oxygen masks, and breathing masks.