In todays Wall Street Journal, Princeton Economist Burton Malkiel, writes about the negative, unintended consequences that a trade war would have.
Malkiel writes: "This Buy American momentum is bad economics, and by threatening to destabilize trade and capital flows, it risks turning a global recession into a 1930s-style depression. Asked about Buy American on Tuesday, President Barack Obama told Fox News that "we can't send a protectionist message." He said on ABC News that he doesn't want anything in the stimulus bill that is "going to trigger a trade war." He's right.
Suppose that we did not allow free trade between the 50 American states. Citizens like me in New Jersey would be far worse off if we could not buy pineapples from Hawaii, wine and vegetables from California, wheat from Kansas, and oil from Texas and Louisiana while we sell pharmaceuticals to the rest of the country. The specialization that trade makes possible allows all of us to live better.
The situation is the same with respect to world trade. Both we and the Chinese are better off if we can import inexpensive clothing from China and sell them large-scale computers and data storage equipment.To be sure, such trade does not make everyone better off, and that is why free trade is often a tough sell, especially during times of hardship.
If I am a textile worker whose job is lost because Chinese imports have caused my factory to close, I feel the pain far more acutely than consumers feel the benefits of cheap clothing. The pain tends to be localized while the benefits are spread broadly. No one person's benefit can compare with the loss felt by the textile worker. But the total benefits do exceed the costs. And competitive markets have spurred the innovation revolution that has made the U.S. the economic powerhouse that it is.
The solution for the displaced worker is job retraining and adjustment assistance, and to improve the safety net available to displaced workers during the transition period. We also need to revamp our educational system so that it prepares workers for the jobs that are available today -- and imparts the flexible skills that make our citizens ready for the future jobs that we cannot even imagine."