According to an IPSOS/Reuters poll released Tuesday, 70 percent of Americans think it is "very" or "somewhat" important to buy American goods.
But if you think that's an endorsement for Monday's "Made in America Day," you'd be mistaken. Because the sentiment doesn't seem to pass the wallet test. After all, a hefty 37 percent of respondents said they would not pay more for a good made in America. And 26 percent said they would only pay up to 5 percent more for American made goods. Only 21 percent said they would pay 10 percent more.
This speaks to an unsurprising fact upon which modern economics is built: Individuals act in their own self-interest. For the majority of American families, fueling the manufacturing sector is less important than saving money. This is the hard truth that protectionists such as President Trump must accept.
Don't misinterpret the statistics. They do not indicate that Americans are economically selfish. On the contrary, the true economic injustice is born of protectionist trade policies. By raising the marginal cost of basic household necessities such as clothing, protectionism acts as a regressive tax. Less wealthy Americans also need T-shirts, but they are far likelier to buy from cheaper stores rather than designer outlets. And the goods in those cheaper stores are those most regularly manufactured abroad. Indeed, that is the primary reason why their items are cheap. The costs of production are lower.
We should welcome the ability of consumers to pick and choose from a wide array of offerings. That opportunity maximizes benefits for the greatest number. Still, we also need to recognize those that globalization has left behind. America's pathetic labor participation rate (those in work or actively looking for work) attests to their struggle.
To do so effectively, we need skills-based education reform.
First, we must boost student participation in math and science classes. Those fields offer young Americans the best chance to compete and earn strong wages in the global economy.
Second, we must escape the obsolete belief that colleges are the only true pathways to social mobility. Fortunately, Germany's apprenticeship-focused education system is catching on with U.S. politicians. In an interview with the Washington Examiner on Tuesday, Congressman Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., called on boosting skills-based high school courses. He was right to do so. As I've previously written, too many well-paid jobs go unfilled in the absence of skilled workers.
Third, we must reform the corporate tax code. Today, far too much investment flows outside the U.S. rather than inwardly. Corporate tax reform that joined code simplification to rate reductions would help ameliorate this concern. Again, we know what's broken: The corporate tax code picks too many winners and losers. Excluding tax credits for capital investment and depreciation, we should eliminate deductions in return for lowering rates. Doing so, we would level the corporate playing field. Companies would survive on their merits or die on their inadequacies.
But freed from bureaucracy and enabled to take risks, many more of our citizens would flourish than would fail.
In the end, "Buy American" protectionists have no answers. They want consumers to pay more and suffer more for the same product. The better alternative is clear: building an economy that produces high-value goods such as the iPhone, aircraft engines, and computer software that the world must buy from us.
If we pursue that path, we'll find a mutual future of good jobs and affordable goods.