Flawed Economic Policies Will Exacerbate the Pandemic

The COVID-19 crisis has resuscitated some seriously bad ideas.


A pandemic is not the time for imprudent public policies. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis, like many earlier ones, has resuscitated some seriously flawed ideas. I fear we may see two such notions implemented within the next few days or weeks.

One such unwise idea is a call by White House trade adviser Peter Navarro for an executive order to bring pharmaceutical and medical supply chains back to the United States, in part by placing new "Buy American" requirements on certain government agencies. Buy American requirements have been with us since the days of President Herbert Hoover. They have always been a mistake, but as Dan Ikenson of the Cato Institute recently and sensibly wrote, "during a pandemic…the White House should avoid measures that impede Americans' access to affordable, quality medical supplies."

One can understand why this idea may have some appeal on the surface. It's often sold as a way to create more self-sufficiency. This administration also likes to claim that it's a way to distance ourselves from China for national security reasons. This longing for self-sufficiency is gaining supporters, a trend fueled by the often-cited claim that 80 percent of America's pharmaceuticals come from China. Never mind that this number is a completely misleading statistic "based on a misreading of a government report that says no such thing," as Eric Boehm of Reason magazine writes in a superb investigative piece.

Even if one supports a policy of cutting off all pharmaceutical imports from China, a Buy American regulation would force us to forgo medical supply purchases from all countries and create major problems. For instance, Ikenson reports that, according to the to the Census Bureau's import statistics, of the $132 billion of products classified as "pharmaceuticals," "only $1.6 billion (or 1.2%) came from China. As for the chemical ingredients in pharmaceutical products—most of which are classified in Chapter 29 of the HTS (Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States) under 'Organic Chemicals'—U.S. imports amounted to $49.2 billion in 2019, of which China accounted for $7.7 billion, or 15.6 percent." Even if we are more dependent on China for some specific products or ingredients, a blunt Buy American provision would do more destruction than required.

Moreover, once such a regulation is in place, other countries will retaliate, which will hamper the international flow of medicine and medical supply chains even more. In turn, the cost of life-saving equipment and drugs will rise, and, over time, increase the very scarcities at home that this measure is ostensibly meant to prevent.

Another idea that's equally awful and unoriginal is the notion of banning the exportation of medical products. Navarro again has been pushing this misguided policy for weeks. Trump recently criticized the company 3M for exporting face masks to Canada and Latin America. Simon Lester of the Cato Institute notes that the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a "temporary final rule" with the title "Prioritization and Allocation of Certain Scarce or Threatened Health and Medical Resources for Domestic Use." That said, Lester doesn't seem to be overly concerned about the rule, because it will all depend on how FEMA applies it.

Some 20 countries already have in place some restrictions on exports of medical supplies. The last thing we need is for the United States to join this group of economically illiterate countries.

No matter who implements them, export bans of medical supplies (or of anything else, for that matter) reduce the net present value of profits from making products that cannot be legally exported. This reduction in profits occurs even if the bans are temporary. As a result, such bans dampen incentives to produce the goods they cover. The result? Fewer such goods and higher prices—even for Americans.

From sticking to the destructive and outdated Jones Act—a section of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 that increases the cost for Americans to acquire valuable medical supplies—to the Food and Drug Administration banning at-home test kits for COVID-19 or making it more difficult to get face masks from the private sector, bad policies abound.

If we Americans pause for a second and compare the government response to this pandemic to the inspiring and often selfless response by actors in the private sector, I hope we'll conclude that we must stop relying as much as we do on the rash decisions of bureaucrats and politicians.


NEXT: Will Civil Rights in Latin America Be a Permanent Casualty of Coronavirus?

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  1. //Moreover, once such a regulation is in place, other countries will retaliate, which will hamper the international flow of medicine and medical supply chains even more.//

    Because China isn’t already retaliating by manipulating the market.

    Reason is so unreasonable. If you’re already getting fucked, counseling people to permit themselves to continue getting fucked to avoid an even bigger fucking is absurd advice.

    //Even if we are more dependent on China for some specific products or ingredients, a blunt Buy American provision would do more destruction than required.//

    Sure it would.

    //It’s often sold as a way to create more self-sufficiency.//

    Because self-sufficiency is a bad thing. Relying on a hostile totalitarian state is much better.

    1. Humans are mostly hostile to the idea of not being Top Dawg who consumes more conspicuous consumption goods than anyone else! ALL persons (with the possible exception of Me and Mine) are HOSTILE, dammit!!!

      So then, under Gasbag Blowhard (AKA Geraje Guzba) logic, this is where we go:

      If trade wars are good, and economic independence is GREAT, then every one of the 50 states in the USA should declare trade wars on every other state… And then county on county, city on city, and finally, SQRLSY One’s household should trade with NO ONE… Good jobs ONLY for residents of SQRLSY One’s household!!! No one else DESERVES to trade with me!!! I will do my own iron ore mining, smelting, tool manufacture, food growing, cloth weaving, home dentistry, you name it… It is actually a straight-line ticket to utter poverty!!!

      1. I hope you get coronavirus and die, Hihn.

    2. What about the other 28something countries?

  2. “One such unwise idea is a call by White House trade adviser Peter Navarro”

    I feel like I’ve heard this name recently at Reason. I’m sure there will be a podcast tomorrow where they discuss how much of an “authority” he is.

    This reminds me of a time in the past when “Reason” articles used “reason” to make their point, and not calls to authority. Especially when the authority wasn’t called out less than a day later by a different author.

    1. Well yes, he was the all knowing seer that forecast the current deadly pandemic and was foolishly snubbed by that bumbler Trump.

  3. 17.5 million covid-19 testing kits the British government purchased from China turned out to be trash.
    They’re unusable Veronica. All seventeen million.

    …But ensuring your country isn’t reliant on communist industry is apparently the real problem.

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    1. Tips Grooming Yang Benar
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      1. This thread is what reason is all about, and what it deserves.

        Peace out assholes.

        1. Made more sense than sqrsly usually does.

          1. Gasbag Blowhard,
            Please listen!
            You don’t know,
            What you’re missing!
            Donald’s ass, don’t be kissin’!
            Trump won’t love you,
            He’ll push and shove you!
            He’ll take your vote,
            Then call you a goat!
            He’ll tax your money,
            Then steal your Honey!
            Your pussy, He will grab,
            Your back, He will stab!
            His-victims-routines, He’s iterating,
            Shit about YOU, He’ll be Twitterating!

            1. If I could spit in your cofee, I would. You’re begging for it, and one day you’re going to get it.

              1. LOL – why would SQRLSY outsource the spitting when it would be so much wiser of him to spit in his own coffee? It’s like you don’t even believe in your own arguments about self-sufficiency.

          2. I cut and pasted the first paragraph to Google Translate. It’s about epoxy flooring systems. So it’s as relevant as most sqrlsy posts, and machine-translated to better English.

  5. It is better to obtain necesary supply of food, drug, medical equipment supply chain in US.
    It is not ONLY the profit matters.
    Not sure whether wallstreet will listen.

    1. Even better you do this all for yourself. No profit required (or possible).

      Good luck.

    2. I’m sure your multi-billion dollar corporate empire is doing better than those run by all those idiots who never thought about the idea that out-sourcing carries costs and risks that must be weighed against the benefits of out-sourcing. All those fools believing in free lunches that never considered there might be trade-offs. Yep, if there’s anything capitalists are known for, it’s their belief in free lunches and offhand dismissal of the idea there’s any such thing as a trade-off.

  6. This is the dumbest thing I’ve read here in well over a decade.

    You have to have essentials produced in your own country, because other countries will cut off the supplies of them in an emergency; or in a war situation.

    We are seeing this now, with countries fighting over masks, because apparently no one but China can produce them.

    1. It’s good to have local options to secure a supply chain. To have a government mandate that you cannot buy from any foreign source is a shitty idea. In almost any pandemic or emergency, some nations will not be hit as hard as others. Keeping your options open is called diversifying.

      1. Nobody is mandating we dont have other sellers outside of the country.

        1. No, Der TrumpfenFuhrer and His Minions are “merely” mandating that we PAY TAXES OUT OF OUR ASSES all day, every day, if we would like to buy shit from other nations! And they use jails and guns, too!

    2. Reason has never heard of risk analysis as a form of cost mitigation. That is 2nd semester economics.

  7. I’m sorry, but I have a hard time associating Boehm with ‘superb’. The good doctor lost me after that whopper.

    1. “Verbose” is more like it.

  8. Stupid economists don’t understand that comparative advantage and specialization is for dolts. We need to be self sufficient. If that means sacrificing what we’re good at to do things that other countries are able to do more cheaply, if that means destroying wealth and producing fewer goods, if that means a return to the drudgery of factory work, then so be it. Because fuck China and fuck economists and fuck Reason and fuck anyone who doesn’t think we need to be completely self sufficient and stop doing business with dirty communists. Smart people understand that self sufficiency is the road to prosperity. Stupid globalists. They just don’t get it.

    1. Now tell us what you really think, sarcasmic. 🙂

    2. Back to first semester econ? There I’d a reason we dont use ideal models. Thinks like frictionless surfaces are great foe introduction to physics, but friction exists in reality and has to be accounted for in engineering and real world disciplines. There is a cost added to risk factors such as say… china cutting off supplies when they forced their ships to return sold goods during the pandemic. This is a real cost that doesnt exist in your idealistic econ 101 classes.

      1. Autocorrect is terrible at 5am. Meh.

      2. You are treating the exception as if it was the rule.

      3. Who do you trust to have better better long term risk analysis and asset allocation? The market or the government?

        1. Well, duh, obviously that depends on which Top Men are running the government you idiot.

        2. The market is already doing a fine job of moving supply chains out of China. Individuals are starting to prefer the benefits of domestic production to “cheaper” goods.

          Economics is a study of human behavior. When attitudes change, assumptions must change as well.

    3. Yeah, sure, fuck specialization. We should each grow our own food, build our own houses, provide our own medical care, and in our spare time, build smart phones and satellites.

      We would be much better off living as independent, self-reliant pioneers. Who needs anything that someone else can make–who needs trade?

    4. //If that means sacrificing what we’re good at to do things that other countries are able to do more cheaply//

      Good = cheap?

      I think thirty years of sucking communist Chinese cock to have access to their slave labor and mass produced garbage proves you wrong.

      1. “Good = cheap?”

        It does for these writers. Every other factor is secondary to purchasers being able to get the absolute lowest price, be it for goods, labor, raw materials. If that means placing most of your supply chains with single points of failure in a country that hates your guts and steals from you, then that’s what it means.

    5. “The drudgery of factory work……”

      Haha. It’s good that we have people like you to tell everyone what type of work they should not enjoy. And, it makes you feel superior, so it’s win/win.

      What a doosh.

    6. “…Smart people understand that self sufficiency is the road to prosperity…”

      Sarc or stupidity?

  9. This whole 3M thing is the oddest bruhaha I have seen in this whole ordeal.

    I listened to Florida’s Health Czar on the Tucker Carlson show. He is basically the guy whose tweeting got Trump’s attention and started this up. If he is to be believed, the US wasn’t getting masks because he would call up 3M distributors, and they would be ready to send us masks when some other country would show up and buy them out with cash.

    This strikes me as plain unbelievable. This is the United States. We have the highest purchasing power in the fucking world. If fucking Italy is coming to a distributor and outbidding us on masks, then that isn’t 3M’s fault. It is ours!

    I think there are one or two other more likely reasons Florida couldn’t get masks. The first, and most likely, is that there aren’t any. Government employees are going to websites and clicking “Order” and realizing the next day that stock wasn’t available. I have seen this with many supplies during this whole supply chain shut down.

    A second variation is that the governments of Florida, et al, are so inflexible that getting payment approved for anything is tedious and approaching impossible. So while they sit there and cut purchase orders for $20,000 that will take 8 – 10 weeks to mail, other countries are showing up with briefcases of cash.

  10. The government has to force people to do what’s for their own good because people are just too stupid to know what’s for their own good. Look, if you shop around, you can often find cheaper sources for products abroad, but the sourcing is not as reliable and the quality of the goods might be suspect. Buying locally might be more costly in terms of dollar outlays, but you have better control over the local source. It’s the same old trade-off that often has to be made – a cheaper product or a better product. Another name for a trade-off is a “choice” and if I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times – if you give people a choice, the stupid fuckers will choose wrongly every goddamn time. Why won’t people ever learn that they should just do things the way they’re told, make the same choices I would make? How dare they think they know better than me what’s for their own good when quite obviously they don’t?

    It’s like when we decided cleaner air and water and safer, more comfortable, better paying jobs were worth more than the costs so we shipped all our dirty, nasty, dangerous, low-paying jobs to Mexico and China – some people foolishly claimed that was a trade-off not worth making but they were just idiots not knowing what’s for their own good so thank God government forced them to make the trade.

    And don’t even get me started on how auto manufacturers don’t even build their own smelters and fractionators and kilns to manufacture their own steel and plastic and glass for their own cars but instead foolishly rely on outside sources for their raw materials. Stupid choices all around.

    1. I agree that most people do stupid things most of the time.

      But how much of a mandate does that give others to manipulate the stupid, even with noble intentions? And once that license is assumed, what are the limits?

      On a different level, how much pretense is necessary, so the stupid people can feel smart and unmanipulated? Does that include democracy theater?

      1. But how much of a mandate does that give others to manipulate the stupid, even with noble intentions? And once that license is assumed, what are the limits?

        Well, that’s what elections are for aren’t they? We’re obviously all too stupid to run our own lives so obviously we have to elect Top Men to run our lives for us. Unfortunately, the Catch-22 in that situation is that we’re also obviously too stupid to elect the right Top Men and therefore the right Top Men are forced to seize control. There also obviously can be no limits placed on the right Top Men because who is wise enough to limit them? The people who are too stupid to know what’s for their own good and too stupid to know who the right Top Men even are? That’s just preposterous. No, you can recognize the right Top Men because they’re the ones wise enough to seize control and refuse to be limited by idiots such as ourselves.

    2. Some manufacturers actually don’t even make their own forgings or castings.

      So many disruptions in their supply chain, GM should mine the metal, refine it etc every step of the way. Otherwise is foolishness.

  11. How much oil does Japan produce and where should they send their formidable carrier force to secure it?

    1. They sure as hell better not even think of sending it toward North Korea – North Korea is the most self-sufficient country on the planet and therefore the most formidable superpower imaginable.

      1. North Korea is a rabid dog pumped full of steroids by its communist handlers in China. Without China, there is no North Korea.

        1. Gasbag Blowhard knows nothing, as usual!

          Riddle me this, Gasbag Blowhard!
          Why did the Chinese build this bridge to nowhere, if the North Koreans are their lapdogs? Here the heathen yellow evil Chinee (in the brains of Trumpists, at least) spent gabillions of Chinee-dollars to open up trade and travel with their supposed lap-dogs, and the N. Korea lap-dog end goes nowhere!

          This Yalu bridge to nowhere, in my mind, serves no useful purpose, other than to remind us of utterly stupid and useless human prideful vanity, and wasteful nationalism, and seeking after so-called “independence”. This bridge symbolizes the trade bridges that other nations have built, to trade with the USA… Which are now being burned, wasted, and shat upon, by Trumpistas and other useless idiots!

  12. Any reading regarding the causes of the ’30s depression puts the attempts at protectionism and autarky right up there at the top.
    Be careful what you wish for; kill world trade, start a depression.

  13. Japan is spending hundreds of billions moving their supply chains out of China. It’s almost like putting all your eggs in one basket and having insufficient domestic production is a bad idea.

  14. I’m sure Veronique means well, but this story is completely uninformed and misguided. It is true that a disproportionate amount of our drugs come from India and China. Just ask the druggist at CVS or Walgreens the next time you pick up your prescription. (The government, in its wisdom, requires toy manufacturers to tell consumers where the toy was manufactured, but with drugs, you’re flying blind. But the druggist will tell you.)

    The reason India and China are doing well with drugs in America isn’t because they’re competing in a free market. India and China do not have better products. Exactly the opposite is true. Our government, by stripping our drug companies of their IP and enabling generic knock-offs after a 12 year period, have handed the business to the cheapest providers. The government has also put a huge unfair advantage on American companies by demanding compliance to FDA drug inspections in North America., while the drugs from China and India are uninspected. The FDA says these offshore manufacturers are “self-monitoring.” According to the FDA, they don’t have the funding to do offshore inspections.

    Meanwhile, a lot of people who take cheap Chinese and Indian generics end up in the hospital. And once this rises to the attention of the FDA, they levy penalties, sometimes very large ones. The largest penalties in FDA history have been levied against Indian and Chinese drug companies. If you want to see the kind of quality we get from this rigged market, google “FDA penalties.”

    The government has further corrupted the free market by allowing a retail duopoly to exist and allowing CVS and Walgreens to ride roughshod over the consumer. Between the two companies, they own 20,000 drug stores. Both choose one generic of all those made, and the choice isn’t based on quality. It’s based on margin. Neither company will special order an alternative brand. Their attitude is “take it or leave it.”

    This is not a free market, and the Chinese success is based on working a rigged system to their advantage.

  15. “If we Americans pause for a second and compare the government response to this pandemic to the inspiring and often selfless response by actors in the private sector, I hope we’ll conclude that we must stop relying as much as we do on the rash decisions of bureaucrats and politicians.”

    Parasites only seek their blood meal and continuation.

    “Politicians are always interested in people. Not that this is always a virtue. Fleas are interested in dogs.” – PJ O’Rourke

  16. NOW is the perfect time to start bringing manufacturing back to the USA.
    We can no longer “afford” cheap Chinese Goods, and that includes goods all the way up to High End Electronics and Luxury Automobiles.
    The Non-Economic costs of doing business with China are too high a cost to bear. We’ve been hit with viruses born and bred in China on a semi-regular basis ever since businesses started taking jobs away from American Citizens and giving them to the Chi-Com Slaves. The cost of repeatedly subjecting ourselves to these debilitating viruses is just too high a price to bear for the “savings” in monetary cost of cheaply made, and sometimes flat out defective products produced in sweat shop conditions by people who are forced to live in some of the worst third world conditions on the planet.
    Don’t be fooled by the veneer of capitalism that the Chinese Communists have donned like a new suit of clothes. These are philosophically and in terms of world outlook the same people who memorized Mao’s “Little Red Book” and applied its principles, to the detriment of their countrymen.
    We don’t need to be subjected to the same policies at third hand, and we will continue to be as long as the Communist Chinese have free access to our markets, our educational institutions, and our nation.

  17. Where are all the communist haters? We do all this business with Communist China and no one complains? We might as well sell them missiles and aircraft carriers instead of just financing it with all our purchases. It’s abominable.

  18. Thanks for updating about new jobs

    I have subscribed your website as well as i share it to my facebook account

    Government Jobs 2020

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