Would You Refuse a Cancer Cure Manufactured In North Korea?

Would You Refuse a Cancer Cure Manufactured In North Korea?
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Roughly 1,600 Americans die from cancer each day, which works out to around 600,000 deaths from the disease each year.  By comparison, 40,000 die in car accidents. 

But what if a cancer cure were developed such that the disease’s ravages vanished; albeit with one hitch: the cure was created by doctors and scientists working in tandem from North Korea and Iran.  Would anyone reading this piece refuse to purchase it, or refuse to purchase it for an ailing relative?

Who knows, but it’s a safe bet that exceedingly few of us would care about the origins of a drug if death hung in the balance.  Assuming attempts to limit exports of the cure to the United States, it’s a safe bet that most of us would go out of our way to buy the drug from individuals in countries not embargoed by Iran and North Korea.  We would do so even if there were U.S. “laws” strictly prohibiting trade in goods produced in the enemy nations.  When our lives are at stake we’re willing to do just about anything to protect ourselves. 

Ok, but would there be “national security” implications attached to the purchase of something that would enrich certain people in the countries mentioned? Would it be necessary for Americans to cure their “addiction” to what keeps them alive, or a feverish drive for “cancer-cure independence”? The reasonable answer is no. 

That the imports would improve us is a redundancy of the first order.  Figure that people are the ultimate resource, and the import of cancer cures would strengthen the U.S.’s ultimate resource.  

As for “national security,” the much bigger threat would be for us to refuse that which elongates our lives. If wars are about destroying lives and wealth, then cancer cures would be all about boosting both.  The origin of a cancer cure would be immaterial.

All of which brings us to the latest Trump administration economic initiative vis-à-vis China.  As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, the Administration plans to dis-allow companies “with at least 25% Chinese ownership” from “buying businesses involved in what the White House calls ‘industrially significant technology.’” All of this is geared toward preventing China from becoming “a global leader in 10 broad areas of technology, including computers, aerospace, electric vehicles and biotechnology.” Can the Administration be serious? Better yet, can Republicans who’ve long paid lip service to highly limited federal intervention in the economy continue to countenance the Administration’s actions with a straight face?

Seemingly forgotten by the defenders of that which is mindless is that trade is not war.  When we enter into transactions we do so because the end result improves us.  Applied to the Chinese, one can only hope that its increasingly free citizens make great strides in computers, electric vehicles and biotechnology.  Better yet, we should hope that within China there are hundreds of Steve Jobs equivalents.  If so, imagine how our living standards will advance in the coming decades? Just as Jobs aimed – successfully – to sell his products to the world (nearly a quarter of Apple’s profits come from China), so will his equivalents in China.  Indeed, why innovate if you’re not going to sell into the market with the greatest buying power?  

And then the Trump administration talks a big game about jobs and job creation.  If so, why on earth would it craft policies meant to repel the very investment without which there are no companies and no jobs?

The answer seems to once again be “national security.” Supposedly the American people are threatened if the Chinese thrive in industries like computers, electric vehicles and biotechnology.  But that’s the equivalent of saying that the Chinese are threatened if the U.S. advances in those same industries, that Seattle would be threatened if the next great internet-based advance were hatched in Columbus, OH, or that the U.S. would be threatened if North Korea and Iran beat American scientists to a cancer cure.  No on all three counts.  Imports – regardless of their origin - always and everywhere improve us.  Always.  Assuming the Chinese advance in certain technologies, Americans will gain as though they’d been created right inside the United States. 

Thinking about all of the above in terms of 5G technology, it’s of no consequence if the Chinese beat American companies to 5G dominance.  Assuming it lives up to its potential, everyone will benefit in much the same way as we will if U.S.-based Qualcomm proves the victor.  No business invests in advances in order to hoard the innovation, so unless the Chinese win the 5G race only to dynamite their creation, Americans will benefit as though the technology had been created right in San Diego, CA.  The genius of divided labor does not stop at country borders.  Along these lines, will any American be downcast if doctors in China solve the problem of paralysis first?

As for presumed Chinese strides in aerospace, some will blanch at the supposed “national security” implications, but then what is China or any country expected to do in consideration of existing U.S. defense spending that matches the total spending of the eight or nine next biggest defense spenders combined? Better yet, war becomes exponentially more expensive the more that people within the two warring countries are trading with one another.  In that case, let’s refer to ongoing economic growth in China as the ultimate insurance policy against the stupidity of legislators in each country. In other words, assuming China's leaders secretly look at the U.S. with invasion in mind, let's make the latter expensive as possible.  

The main thing that has seemingly never been understood by some inside the Trump administration is that so long as the Chinese produce feverishly to meet our needs, they’re the opposite of our “enemy.” An “enemy” wouldn’t have citizens working tirelessly to serve us, and would instead have no stake in how the U.S. economy does.  The national security danger is when countries aren’t selling, buying and investing with each other.  In its infinite wisdom, the Trump administration seems eager to bring about this totally avoidable eventuality. 

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, Director of the Center for Economic Freedom at FreedomWorks, and a senior economic adviser to Toreador Research and Trading (www.trtadvisors.com). His new book is titled They're Both Wrong: A Policy Guide for America's Frustrated Independent Thinkers. Other books by Tamny include The End of Work, about the exciting growth of jobs more and more of us love, Who Needs the Fed? and Popular Economics. He can be reached at jtamny@realclearmarkets.com.  

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