Friday, May 12, 2006

Automotive Jingoism

I like to follow automotive technology. Partly this is for professional reasons--technological progress has important economic implications, and automotive technology can specifically affect my field of interest, environmental economics. I'm also a bit of a gadget geek, even if I can't afford many gadgets myself.

For this reason I tend to check autoblog.com. Today I saw this entry:
http://www.autoblog.com/2006/05/12/new-ad-campaign-for-the-big-3-plays-the-buy-american-card/
And I found it disturbing. Specifically, this line:
"While we fully support the concept of buying domestically-produced consumer products..."

I have a really hard time understanding this idea. Why would one buy domestically produced products for any reason other than the fact that they happen to be a good deal? That is, why would one buy them just because they're American? I don't understand why I should be more willing to buy a product made by strangers who happen to live in the U.S.A. than I should be to buy a product made by strangers who happen to live in another country.

What makes Americans more deserving of my money? To put it another way, what makes Americans so deserving of my money that I should forego buying a superior car and buy one made by Americans instead? How much superior must the foreign car be before I can be justified in buying it?

That's a moral argument against this kind of jingoism (it could be racism, but I think it's likely just a fear or hatred of foreigners). There are good economic arguments against buying American cars just because they're American. For example:
1) It relaxes the competitive pressure on American car companies, encouraging them to build inferior cars.
2) It doesn't "save jobs" on net. The dollars that go to Japan come back to the U.S. in the form of purchases of U.S. goods and investment in the U.S. (including the purchase of government debt--and if foreigners weren't buying it, we'd be paying for it now with taxes, rather than paying for it later with taxes).
3) (This argument is pretty weak.) It delays the ongoing and inevitable transition of the U.S. away from manufacturing. The sooner we realize that low-skill manufacturing should take place in low-skill countries, the sooner we can get focused on reforming our education system to turn out the high-skill workers we need. Okay, this is probably excessively optimistic. We're not likely to get any useful education reform any time soon.

But all these practical points should not obscure the simple fact that buying something from someone just because it was made by a particular group of strangers who happen to live in a particular area is not really all that different from, say, buying something from a group of strangers just because they're white.

Only individuals matter, and all individuals matter equally.