Does “Buy American” create or protect American jobs? Almost certainly not. That’s because we all buy lots of different things, and paying more than you have to for an inferior General Motors product doesn’t stick it to Honda so much as it sticks it to#…#everybody else you might have bought something from with that money you spent making yourself feel patriotic about buying a car assembled in Michigan out of components from all over God’s green Earth.

There is a word for making a national economy policy out of “buy local” or “buy national,” and that word is “autarky.” Autarky is what happens when a country tries to produce everything it uses and use everything it produces. There are a few countries organized around something like that principle, and they are desperately poor: North Korea is the leading example, though a little bit of autarkical policy helped to reduce Venezuela from one of the wealthiest countries in the Western Hemisphere to one of the poorest, a country so far up that infamous creek that it cannot even manage to produce toilet paper in sufficient quantities. Autarky and socialism tend to go hand-in-hand, for reasons that are pretty obvious: Both are attempts to put economic exchange and production under political discipline. The results of each are predictable and similar: misery.

I once had the pleasure of meeting a few of the master luthiers who craft Gibson guitars, and I can tell you that it isn’t sentimentality, dopey and half-digested nationalism, or pity that is keeping them in business. What keeps them in business is that they are among the best in the world at what they do. They have a great deal of which to be proud — they enrich the American scene and do not require our condescending protection. Likewise, a few years ago I asked some workers at the Mercedes-Benz factory in Stuttgart whether they were worried about their jobs’ being outsourced. They scoffed at the notion of some low-paid Third World clock-puncher taking their jobs. They know who the real competition is: robots, many of which are designed and made right here in the United States.