Oren Cass Is Advising Marco Rubio on How To Not Be President
Regular readers of this column are familiar with this historical anecdote, but what arguably informs rates regular repeat. During World War I, U.S. exports to Scandinavian countries mysteriously surged. Of course, there was really no mystery to speak of. Due to a cessation of trading relations between Germany and the United States, U.S. trade with Germany continued; albeit via Scandinavian countries.
If you’re producing a desirable good, you’re ultimately trading with everyone. And while countries don’t trade, you’re even trading with enemy countries.
Putting a finer, more modern point on it, in 2004 Israel’s minister of national infrastructures noted that “We don’t have diplomatic relations with most of the countries from which we import oil.” Fast forward to 2020, it’s a known quantity that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un consumes all manner of Americana, including Mariah Carey music and Nike shoes. Apple iPhones can be found all over Iran even though the “United States” doesn’t trade with “Iran.”
All of this should clarify something that is increasingly blurry to politicians and those who advise them: short of hoarding a market good, no country can control its final destination. While it’s wrongheaded on its face for U.S. officials to limit the sale of American-made communications technology to “China,” and Huawei more specifically, limits like this are ultimately meaningless unless U.S. tech companies cease selling their wares altogether. If they’re selling them, they’re ultimately selling them to the Chinese and Huawei. Good.
Indeed, if Huawei can help Americans reach a 5G future sooner than American companies can, why should we care? Most of us don’t live in Seattle or Cupertino, but we benefit from what Amazon and Apple produce for us as though each company is headquartered right next door.
Apple sells 1/5th of its iPhones in China, and the fact that it does hardly hurts the Chinese. It improves them and their productivity in much the same way that having a supercomputer in our pockets here improves us.
Which brings to the latest endeavor of economic advisor, Oren Cass. Cass famously foisted on Mitt Romney a 58 or 85 (the numbers run together) point plan for economic growth ahead of Romney’s run for president. Cass surely meant well, but economics is not complicated. Growth is even less complicated. It’s as simple as removing the basic governmental barriers to production placed in front of the talented like taxes, regulations, tariffs, and money that bounces around in valueless fashion. 58 or 85 points aren’t necessary when trying to explain what fosters growth, which helps explain Romney’s muddled message in 2012.
Part of the message that Cass pushed on Romney was a mercantilist one. “Get Tough on China,” or something like that. Cass sees imports as harmful. He’s funny that way. There’s a backwards quality to his thinking. He ignores that imports improve us. If the Chinese wanted to “get tough” with us, they’d cease producing. Again, with imports we buy them because they improve our lives and our productivity. Since most of can’t cut our own hair, or make our own clothes, or manufacture our own TVs, we buy or “import” from those who do. And the more that the world’s producers can produce for us, the further our paychecks stretch.
Cass ties imports to the loss of jobs stateside and the decline of certain cities. Actually, job destruction is the norm in any dynamic economy. It’s in the cities, states and countries where jobs are being destroyed the quickest that they’re also being created the quickest. Imports haven’t destroyed certain American cities, but the departure of talented people from those cities has led to their decline. Crucial here is that what led to the decline of cities like Aliquippa, Flint, and Detroit was the preservation of the jobs of the past; as in the jobs that Cass romanticizes. The problem is that few actually familiar with those jobs share Cass's excitement born of distance from them, hence the depopulation of those cities. Translated, Cass gets what makes certain cities great, and others destitute, backwards. It’s a pattern.
His latest policy initiative, one that he’s convinced the hyper-emotional Marco Rubio to help him with, is medicine, equipment and materials independence. Neither Cass nor Rubio looks askance at command-and-control from the proverbial Commanding Heights, and in this case the duo seek what Jeremy Peters of the New York Times describes as a legislative “mandate that certain products deemed essential to the national interest – like medicine, protective equipment including masks, and materials used to build telecommunications infrastructure – are manufactured in the United States.” Oh for the days when Republicans weren’t so meddlesome!
Furthermore, what the purpose-seeking Cass and Rubio desire brings new meaning to pointless. Unless producers of medicine, masks and communications gear warehouse those goods on the way to decline, their production will reach us in short order, and as though all three market goods were produced out back. Such is the nature of the open trade that Cass and Rubio would like government to manage. When it’s not managed by politicians, and when those same politicians aren’t naively presuming to dictate its cost, all that we want and need “independent” access to is already there for us in plentiful fashion.
Rubio wants government to demand or force the availability of certain things that he and Cass deem “good for the country,” but their efforts are wasted. If medicine, masks and telecom gear are “good for the country,” then the policy theorist and senator needn’t worry about legislating their existence.
If they’re good for us, we’ll already have them, along with all manner of other products that Cass and Rubio never imagined us needing. Such is the beauty of the free markets that they’re so skeptical about.