Protectionism Isn’t Patriotic

“It’s just a disaster. I’m extremely disappointed. It’s just one of the worst things in my whole life. I am just shocked over this.”  — Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash.

A free market means you have to be competitive. If you can’t deliver the best value, you lose. And that’s exactly as it should be. If we want American technology to be the best in the world, then it has to be able to compete in the world marketplace.

According to Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne, the Northrop Grumann plane that beat out the Boeing contender is not only less expensive, but “across the spectrum, all evaluated, the Northrop Grumman airplane was clearly a better performer.” The Northrop Grumman plane has more troop capacity, more cargo capacity, more fuel capacity, greater reliability, and “superior air-refueling and airlift capability, enabling it to carry out specified [combat] scenarios with fewer aircraft.”

So what should the Pentagon do? Should they waste the taxpayers’ money on less efficient, less reliable, and more expensive planes that would require more aircraft to deliver the same quantity of fuel, exposing more personnel and equipment to unnecessary risk, just so they can award the contract to an American company? Or should they do what any rational decision-maker would do in a free market, and select the product that best satisfies the requirements and delivers the highest return on investment?

This isn’t a case where we’re farming out strategic military technology to a rival foreign power. Building wide body jets isn’t rocket science. There are no military secrets involved.

It isn’t even a case where we’re shipping massive quantities of jobs overseas. The planes are going to be built in Alabama. Last I heard, Alabama is still part of the United States (unless the South seceded again, and nobody noticed). Boeing isn’t going to be laying off any employees because of the loss of this contract; they just won’t be hiring the 2,000 new employees they would have hired if the contract had come through. However, 1,500 new jobs will be created at a new widebody jet plant to be built in Alabama. (Arguably, it’s strategically beneficial to have widebody jet assembly capability in more than one region of the country. Having it all concentrated in one place could be a strategic vulnerability.)

A net loss of 500 potential jobs is unfortunate, but we would stand to lose a lot more by lowering our DoD standards to protect an American company from having to compete in the free market. In a free market, competition drives improvement in goods and services. When you shield a product or company from legitimate competition, or grant them an unearned advantage, the end result is to make them even weaker and less competitive in the future. Any enterprise will reach a stage of stasis and stagnation unless continually motivated by a need to improve. Competition provides that impetus. That’s why competition is good. If Boeing were granted this contract, in spite of their inferiority to the competition, it would further insulate them from any incentive to improve.  

By coddling American companies, protectionism makes our nation weaker, not stronger. How could that be patriotic?


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Immigration and Natural Selection

This video is 9.5 minutes long, but it’s well worth watching. It provides a graphic demonstration of the impact of current immigration policies on our country’s future, from a perspective of resource utilization.

Being a strong proponent of free market solutions, I used to believe the best approach to immigration was to grant anybody citizenship who could pass the necessary background checks. A number of people I respect challenged the wisdom and practicality of that approach. Initially seeking to justify my position, I set out to research the matter, which led me to reevaluate some long held assumptions. Ultimately, the data convinced me that my solution was not practical and that, in fact, we need tighter immigration controls.

I’m not against immigration. Many of the most compelling scientific, industrial, and technological innovations of the 20th century were discovered or invented by immigrants from other places. A lot of people employed in our scientific and high-tech industries are here on work visas and green cards, working their way through the citizenship process. Research and development companies hire many people from other parts of the world, and relocate them here at signficant expense, because the industries are growing so fast there aren’t enough highly qualified Americans to fill the positions. These people obey our laws, respect the principles that form the foundation of our nation, have a strong work ethic, and contribute not only to our economy, but to our world leadership in numerous scientific and technical fields. They are an asset to our nation. We should welcome them and make it easier for them to become citizens.

On the other hand, we can’t afford to thow open our doors to everybody who would like to live here. The reality is, there are a limited number of immigrants our nation can successfully absorb per year. There are a virtually unlimited number of people, particularly in third world countries, who would like to come here if they could. We have no choice but to be selective in our immigration policies.

The question is what selection criteria do we apply? American citizenship is not an entitlement that’s owed to everybody who demands it. As this video graphically demonstrates, it’s a limited and precious commodity. Therefore, by the law of supply and demand, competition will always be high. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In nature, it’s competition that improves the fitness of a species by selecting the strong over the weak. Allowing the same principle to drive our immigration policies can, likewise, improve the overall “fitness” of our nation’s population.

I do not favor any selection policies based on ethnicity or national origin. Just like applicants for a job or a university, the criteria should be based purely on competitive qualifications. For every applicant to whom we grant citizenship, some other applicant will have to be denied. If we follow the counsel of nature, we will select those who have the highest probability of successful assimilation and contribution to our nation. Some will say that’s elitist and unfair. So is natural selection, but it works.


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Published in: on February 17, 2008 at 7:32 pm  Comments (4)  
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