These supply chains not only deliver modern marvels at amazing prices but also allow American companies and workers to focus on our high-value comparative advantages, such as professional services and advanced manufacturing, and leave the lower-value stuff to other countries and workers who lack such skills. Imports, the San Francisco Fed study found, also support millions of other American jobs in transportation, logistics, and wholesale and retail trade — indeed, almost half of all U.S. consumption dollars spent on items not “made in the USA” go to these Americans, not to foreigners.
Finally, there are the immense, unseen benefits of import competition on American economic dynamism (a market’s rate of change and innovation) and living standards. “When we find ways to get more from less, that means more resources available to expand opportunities elsewhere in the economy,” George Mason’s Russ Roberts recently noted. “That expansion is unseen. . . . But it’s hugely important.” Whether this creative destruction comes from trade or technology is irrelevant: The outcome is not just cheaper stuff but better (and once unimaginable) stuff, better jobs, better companies, and better lives. And it can occur only by letting consumers and their capital seek more-productive ends.
This is why the alternative to freer trade, taken to its extreme, is not $2,000 iPhones; it’s no iPhones at all.