Why Trump's 'Buy American, Hire American' Is Un-American

How flag-waving nationalism provides cover for a destructive economic policy.

|

In his quest to "Make America Great Again," President Trump has spent a week encouraging us all to buy products "Made in America."

That makes for a good slogan—who doesn't want to support home-grown businesses? But it's bad and incoherent policy. And it will do little or nothing to help Americans who have been put out of work by changes in technology and the economy.

For starters, it's hard to even get a clean definition of what it means for a product to be made in America. Dozens of products that carry a "made in America" tag were largely assembled or sourced outside the United States, with only a little bit of labor added within our borders. The Jeep Patriot, for instance, pushes nationalism in its very name but its transmissions are made in Japan, Germany, and Mexico.

The U.S. often has much higher labor costs than foreign countries, which means the same thing created solely in America would have an astronomical cost. According to one estimate, Apple iPads made totally in America would cost $967 a piece, or about three times today's basic price. The resulting fall in sales would cost about 67,000 manufacturing jobs.

Pushing "Made in America" comes with other costs, too. To hype his "Made in America" policy, Trump invited 50 exemplary companies to the White House for a photo op. It turns out that 21 of them received various federal, state, and local subsidies worth about $600 million. If you're taxing Peter to subsidize Paul, chances are you're not creating much real economic activity.

Pushing economic nationalism is also an affront to personal liberty and basic economics. Why shouldn't individuals be allowed to buy the products they think are best and cheapest regardless of where they come from? You might as well tell people to only "date American" or "vacation American."

Virtually all economists agree that protectionism dampens economic activity and growth by increasing prices and keeping workers and resources in sunset industries that will need more and more help to stay afloat. One study of industry-specific protectionist policies found that trying to make people "buy American" led to consumer-losses per job-saved of over half-a-million dollars.

And for all the talk Donald Trump and others have made about bringing "good-paying" manufacturing jobs back to America, the fact is that manufacturing jobs as a percentage of the work force peaked in 1943 and has declined ever since. We're truly a post-industrial nation.

There's no question that even with historically low unemployment rates, many Americans are having trouble finding good-paying, rewarding jobs in a global economy that demands constant upgrades and changes from workers. But the best way to help them is by pursuing policies that help produce the sort of economic growth that creates new jobs, new opportunities, and new wealth for all of us: Lower government spending, flatter and less distorting taxes, and less regulation.

Telling us all to "Buy American" is a cheap slogan best left on baseball caps made overseas.

Edited by Todd Krainin. Written by Nick Gillespie. Cameras by Meredith Bragg.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Like us on Facebook.

Follow us on Twitter.

Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.

NEXT: Millennial Socialist Moment Mostly Media Hype

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. RE: Why Trump’s ‘Buy American, Hire American’ Is Un-American

    “Buy American, Hire American.”

    Isn’t that what the democrats used to say?

    1. Trump hasn’t been a Democrat for almost his entire life?

      1. I always thought Trump has been an asshole almost his entire life.

        1. They’re not mutually exclusive. In fact, that particular Venn diagram may be concentric circles, for assholes count all political beings among their number.

          1. So all those concentric diagrams would look like a giant asshole? Wow

          2. Ghandi and Mother Theresa were both assholes for Pete’s sake…

            A Venn diagram of “people” and “people who are not assholes” would be a very small circle consisting almost exclusively of newborns, and even some of those would be excluded.

      2. Indeed. Democrats have moved so far to the left than the old Democrat positions are virtually centrist these days if not outright Republican positions.

        1. The Democrats have, in truth, moved so far Left that they no longer make a lick of sense, and actually haven’t made much sense since about 1980. Clinton was a Democrat only in the sense that he had any principles whatsoever beyond “I’ve got mine”. What Shrillary is, other than about half as smart as her husband and one tenth as charming, is probably unprintable.

          Meanwhile, the Republicans have been fighting hard against actual Conservatism, actually shrinking the government, or actually standing for much other than “What the Democrats say they want, but slightly less of it”.

          Both Party Establishments are morally bankrupt. The Republicans are farther along in the slow shift to meaning, because they started sooner. The Democrats are still playing the Cultural Revolution cards they stood them in such good stead in the 1970’s … for certain values of ‘stood in good stead’. The Republicans were at least willing to go with a ‘Populist’ candidate when one came along. The Democrats scuttled THEIR populist, and ran an insider who lost to Donald by God Trump. Now they are running around in circles, hoping that their voters won’t notice how badly they screwed up before they can comfortably retire.

          1. That evil cunt WISHES she were a tenth as charming as her husband.

    2. Actually, Smoot and Hawley were both republicans, and the Smoot Harley act was a failure. Trying to prop up an old economy (agricultural in those times, manufacturing today) instead of recognizing and supporting a transitioning economy and training the workforce for the future (manufacturing then, service and tech now) leads to failure and a waste of money and energy.

      1. Yes, and when Smoot and Hawley were in office the Republicans were pro-tariff protectionists and the Democrats were anti-tariff free-traders.

        The democrats did not become protectionists until the mid thirties when FDR decided that to enlarge their share of the working class vote they would have to become pro-union.

  2. But the labor unions love it though, right? There’s nothing more American than a good old fashioned labor union.

    1. Nothing says free market capitalism like government sponsored extortion of private sector company owners.

      1. Followed by bailouts because “too big to fail.”

    2. “Old Labor” (automaking, steelmaking, other manufacturing, and construction) rank and file love them some protectionism but they’re declining in importance. “New Labor” (service, transportation and government) don’t care about foreign competition since most of their work can’t be “exported”*. Those unions are growing.

      Since unions today exist mostly as fundraising arms of the Democratic party, guess which wing of the labor movement is more important to Party Establishment.

      *True, some communications and tech work can be outsourced and this affects a small part of the private sector service employees but transport and government are perfectly safe.

  3. While we are talking non-sense about protectionist schemes, massive distortion of market prices, and misallocation of capital, lets take it one step further.

    Buy American, hire American, only use american made wind turbines to under power a subsidy ridden pie in the sky renewable energy scam. Buy only American construction products and manufacturing products that are assembled with parts sourced all over the world and delivered in Mitsubishi cab over straight trucks.
    While we’re at it, lets make sure all of the employees of all companies involved use only American made smart phones to transact their business and get there groceries, to include fresh produce in the winter, only from American producers in February.
    Oh, and I guess no one can wear any cloths or shoes in these utopias.

    1. I like my good like I like my women: Chinese.

      1. Actually made in China or just arrived in a Chinese shipping container?

        1. Assembled in Mexico from Chinese components?

        2. Generally speaking? Imported. From pretty much wherever. But I support a travel ban on immigrants from the UK.

    2. Buy American, hire American, only use american made wind turbines to under power a subsidy ridden pie in the sky renewable energy scam.

      Yeah, I wondered myself if, at this point, Coal, ‘Technology’, and/or ‘Telecommunications’ companies/industries are getting more help to stay afloat?

      I’m pretty sure Tesla and ?ber are over-valued by at least twice the value of annual coal production. Seems like sunsetting industry protectionism starts with getting in on the ground floor and leveraging for sums that no company/industry could pay off.

      1. On the front end, no telling.
        You can bet, however, that bailouts are already baked into the crazy numbers being seen on wall street.

  4. Why Trump’s ‘Buy American, Hire American’ Is Un-American: New at Reason

    Oh, au contraire! It’s as American as mom and apple pie. Of course, as long as mom is a unionized leech and the apple pie is subsidized by the government.

    The fight for economic autaky is very old. Of course the economics of autarky are unsustainable but that’s why cronies ask for special protections and not merely total protection. “After all, we’re not Communists. Hee hee hee!”

  5. Fuck you Nick. I’m not going to listen to some lazy fuck who works for a non-profit lecture me about capitalism. Really go fuck yourself.

    Reason: the CNN of libertariansim.

      1. If your not angry, your not paying attention.

        1. Sure i’m angry. I just try to present it coherently and sardonically and aimed at the appropriate targets and spelled correctly, but your way works too, i guess.

          1. Sure i’m angry. I just try to present it coherently and sardonically and aimed at the appropriate targets and spelled correctly

            Pffft, if you’re not frothing at the mouth spouting off incoherently at anyone who says anything you disagree with, you’re not doing it right. But then, you’re another one of them damn COZMOTARD CUCKS!11!1!!!!!! so what do you know? /sarc

            1. I’ve been called a leftist fag, a conservative shitlord, a Trumptard, and various flavors of cuck in this very forum, so i’m doing my part to further the dialogue.

              1. Yeah but one of those insults was accurate. I’ll let you figure out which one.

        2. Or just sitting back and laughing at the spectacle. There is nothing to be gained by being angry at the statists when the zombie horde is so pro-statist. You can’t un-brainwash a leftist until shit starts happening like Venezuela and they are actually experiencing the misery of socialism on their doorstep. Collapse is a process, not an event. Kind of like 100 years of leftists teachings at our public schools and colleges.

          Best to arm your self, sit back and laugh, and hope you are not collateral damage as this place unravels.

          1. You can’t un-brainwash a leftist until shit starts happening like Venezuela and they are actually experiencing the misery of socialism on their doorstep.

            And even then a good percentage will conclude that they just “didn’t do real socialism, but next time we’ll get it right!”

            1. The media reports that the problems in Venezuela are caused by – and I quote – “economic mismanagement”. It’s not a systemic problem of socialism or communism; at least in their reports, it isn’t. We just need to find the right person who can make it work.

        3. I’m confused… If my not [is] angry, my not [is] paying attention?

    1. Re: Troy muy grande boner

      Nothing you wrote above is a valid counterargument to this: “Pushing economic nationalism is also an affront to personal liberty and basic economics.”

      So what exactly is your objection, other that your giant orange beast is being insulted?

      1. He’s a working class white guy who stands to benefit from protectionism.
        In other words, he’s a guy who thinks we should be forced to buy stuff from him preferentially over foreigners.

  6. There’s no question that even with historically low unemployment rates,

    You really believe that? So not only are you a lazy fuck, but an incredibly stupid lazy fuck? Or are u just trying to get into Shikha’s pants? No I don’t believe u believe that. So that just makes you a liar. So I am right,

    Reason, the CNN of libertariansim

    1. Which unemployment measure is he even using? It would be nice to know.

      1. What part of ‘no question’ do you not understand?

    2. He’s just about the most dishonest sack of shit you’ll ever see.

      But really what the fuck can you expect from a douchebag who likes to accuse others of being out of step with the times while wearing a Fonzie jacket.

    3. Re: Troy muy grande boner,

      You really believe that? So not only are you a lazy fuck, but an incredibly stupid lazy fuck?

      So much for the meteoric economic recovery emanating from king Trump’s gracious hand.

      Will Trumpistas ever be consistent?

  7. “Buy American, Hire American.”

    ZOMG RACIST XENOPHOBE HITLER!!! //prog

    To be (a little) more serial: It IS protectionist and bad economics, but at least *it rolls nicely off the tongue*.

    **That’s what she said.

    1. at least *it rolls nicely off the tongue*.

      So, what you’re saying is this time it doesn’t sound better in the original German? /jk

    2. To be (a little) more serial: It IS protectionist and bad economics, but at least *it rolls nicely off the tongue*.

      Not to disagree exactly but, IDK. Considering that for the better part of the last decade it’s been totes cool to ‘make America the leader in clean energy renewables’ while tanking tax dollars here only to get our asses kicked abroad; it seems a bit… antiquated to call it protectionism and/or bad economics. Not that it isn’t, just that the foreign libertarian “investment” options aren’t head and shoulders above any/all domestic ones.

  8. Trump won’t marry American two times out of three.

    1. Double-edged sword with non-American wives.

      That means he’s not a racist nor a hater of foreigners either.

    2. Doesn’t that count as a semen export? Though I suppose Barron counts as an import then. Of course all the food Melania ate during pregnancy is exports. So we may have a surplus from that deal.

      1. So then, is her shit an import?

    3. Importing hot chicks improves the ratio. Gotta watch the ratio.

  9. ” Apple iPads made totally in America would cost $967 a piece, or about three times today’s basic price.” maybe true but nobody expects that and it’s probably not possible anymore. Getting what you can from the USA and everything else from wherever then doing the assembly in the USA would add little to the cost.

    1. Just checked Apple site iPhone 7 $649 – $849. Nick didn’t pay attention during 5th grade math class.

      1. Yah, Chinese labor cost is quite less than in the US. But Japan $35/hr. US dollars. EU average is 25 euro/hr.

        https://www.bls.gov/fls/country/japan.htm
        http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/s…..bour_costs

    2. “According to one estimate” is also not a very good source. Did I miss something or is he just providing the number without an opportunity to see how it was calculated?

    3. I work in the electronics industry. Agree with Brian. The electronic stuff that is still assembled in the U.S. has parts made all over the world with much from China, South Korea, Thailand etc, etc,. The factory electronics assemblers in the U.S. do not get $35 per hour, they get much closer to $13 as the Forbes article notes.

      1. And the assemblers are mainly contract workers (no benefits or maybe they use Obamacare).

  10. Maybe if government got out of the practice of over regulation then maybe it wouldn’t be a big deal and many more products would continue to still be made in America. Its not just labor cost but taxes and regs that force more manufacturing out of the nation than the labor and since there are less expensive right to work states where economical labor can be found. Products made in other countries are not taxed the same as made in America.

    So If trump could focus on those issues and he has tried, deregulation, but he is only a mouth piece who assumed that the GOP actually had ideas or even cared to back up their complaints all these years.

  11. “Historically low unemployment rates”? So Gillespie also buys into the phony unemployment stats pushed on us by the BLS? A simple hint: historically low number of people collecting unemployment benefits does not equal historically low unemployment, and that doesn’t change by adding the word “rates” into the equation. We still have over 96M people out of the workforce, arguably permanently.

  12. Every dollar that goes overseas in trade has to come back in trade eventually. For example, the only way a Mexican can earn the dollars to buy US corn, or pharmaceuticals, or trucks or tractors is to make something that a North American might want to buy. Trade makes everyone wealthier. International trade makes everyone wealthier.

    1. No. They can buy property and we can be their serfs.

    2. Doesn’t make sense. I have bought German stuff, for example, but I seriously doubt any Germans are buying what I make.

      1. Here are two examples of economic illiterates.

  13. The thing that does concern me about the export of manufacturing jobs to China is that, while I hold the Greens in aversion (they lie unthriftily) I do care about some of the more poisonous kinds of environmental damage. Mining of rare earth metals is a case in point. Also, from what I have been reading, the Chinese seem to have an unhappy genius for doing ordinary industrial processes in the dirtiest way possible.

    I may be worrying about nothing. The news out of China is distorted by A) the Chinese government B) The Chinese cultural biases (which, since I don’t understand them, skew my reading of things) and C) the Mainstream Media’s longstanding determination to downplay any negative story about a Communist government until the local dictator has actually been lynched by the local people. I tend to assume that this covers even more environmental damage than we hear about, but for all I know it may run the other way.

  14. Of course it is a cheap slogan. This is what the minority president excels at- marketing until you look behind the curtain to discover that there is nothing there but a little man with a megaphone.

    1. Has there been a president in the last 80 years who has been otherwise?

  15. America doesn’t even need most Americans to buy American, because the rest of the world buys American.

    America sends tons of food (agriculture, fast food), clothing, energy and entertainment abroad. We’re practically the birthplace of social media. The country makes gazillions of dollars on information alone.

  16. Asking people to buy or hire American is not the same telling them to only date an American. Its asking them to try to think about the products they buy and buy the ones that support our economy and jobs the most, by being as much as possible, if not all American made. Every dollar spent on American products directly supports American jobs and creates a stronger American economy. Hiring legal Americans helps keep or makes our economy strong, helps lower unemployment and welfare rates, and ultimately makes our country more financially sound, so that we can help more people that need it, be it from within or from outside the country.

    This is about becoming a financially healthy country again…..where we CAN help more people in need without putting ourselves in extreme debt.
    In reality, every household must run on a budget and buy for the household first, before buying goods and services for the neighborhood. They also must make sure that the people in the household have income producing jobs first, before giving money or income producing jobs to those outside the home. It is the same for a country. This country is our home….a much larger one, with many more family members….but we are all in this together. If we don’t take care of it and those people in it, we will lose it….we ARE losing it…..by not fighting to protect our constitutional rights, or by thinking that somehow buying American is xenophobic….

  17. I agree with this idea. I don’t know why some people vote for him. Now you see, we have a terrible president.

    ~~~ Alex ~~~

    1. As opposed to what? When was the last time we actually had a president that was better than Trump. I’m not saying he’s anywhere near what I want, but I’m getting tired of the hyperbole.

  18. Notice what Nick did here.

    The title and intro declare that “buy American, hire American” is bad policy. Then the entire article (correctly) beats the shit out of the “buy American” part while (incorrectly) ignoring the “hire American” part.

    The reader is supposed to walk away thinking that BOTH parts have been disproven.

  19. It is a lot more difficult for a small business to keep their cost of goods low enough to be profitable if they are forced to buy all of their parts or have manufacturing done in the US. Foreign car manufacturers employ US salespeople, managers, service workers, etc., so buying Ford over Toyota hurts all of the US employees that work for Toyota (plus the fact that foreign cars are better made, and after being forced to drive American cars by sales companies, I only buy foreign for myself).

    Smoot Hawley was a failure. Train manufacturing workers how to work in automation/engineering and tech jobs.

    1. Smoot Hawley was more of the same. All it really did was double down on all forms of search-and-seize prohibitionism while making sugar too expensive for bootleggers to make into alcohol.

  20. “The Jeep Patriot, for instance, pushes nationalism in its very name but its transmissions are made in Japan, Germany, and Mexico.”

    You forgot to tell us that it is made by an Italian car company. However, Toyota, Mazda, Kia, Ford and General Motors do build transmissions in the United States. Why the fuck can’t Fiat? You couldn’t give me a Jeep to use for yard art. Strangely enough, transmission problems are one of the biggest issues with Jeeps.

  21. Trump is well aware that it is bad economics. He’s also aware that it’s “feel good” politics. People will still buy the product that most closely approximates their estimation of a “good value”, regardless of national origin (which is becoming more and more difficult to determine with different components of everything being made in different countries.)

    The slogan “Buy American, Hire American” is just that—a slogan. Everybody knows it, and everybody likes to say it because it generates national pride and group identity at a time when such affectations are beginning to blur.

    Such frivolities will fade away on their own as the global culture becomes more and more homogeneous. Let them fade away on its own, and quit being confrontational ninnies.

  22. Does anyone else find it odd that the same people who chant ‘eat locally, shop locally, live locally’ as if it were a holy mantra react to this with derision?

    What, I wonder, do they see as a difference?

  23. I heard a story about a motel owner on some highway, who put “American owned” on the motel sign. I bet some folks were surprised when they came in and found out that he was an Indian guy who had become an American citizen. I wonder whether they stayed at his place or not. He was telling the truth, and they wanted to stay at a place owned by an American… Haha!

  24. If everybody only bought American, I’d have been unemployed almost my entire career.
    I managed movie theatres showing movies with international casts, crew, and financing. The pop-corn was probably American, and these days would be GMO.
    I’ve sold VCRs, TVs, computers, and solar. The VCRs had logos like Magnavox, RCA, and Fisher, but they were made in Japan. I worked at Sony Pictures Entertainment on the old MGM lot in California and the work was exported to the world.
    I did sell real estate for a couple of years until the annual percentage rate went to 22%. My three cars were a VW bug, and a couple of Hondas; I got each when it was 10 years old, from American sellers.
    That Silicon Valley and “Silicone Valley” are both thriving depends on others providing the hardware to our software in large degree. We also provide intellectual property to create new demand and new industries. Our ability to innovate benefits from the savings we get from competing international suppliers.
    “Buy American” snobs do more harm than good, but I have no problem with them doing so for themselves–I often buy American goods and services. Consumers have a right to seek to buy the quality of products suited to their purposes, and that requires that they have many options.

  25. Wasn’t that the title of a shibboleth back when The Intellectual Activist was a thing?

  26. As long as it is a voluntary program, buy American is quite American. It is all about what the individual wants to do. If you want to pay more to support American Jobs, do so. If you want to buy less expensive foreign produce products, do so.

  27. very nice post. I like it. Thanks for sharing this information.
    Tinder is the best online chatting application. Try it.
    http://www.tinder-pc-download.com/ tinder for pc
    http://www.tinder-pc-download.com/ tinder download

Please to post comments