Last week popular hamburger chain Five Guys opened its first location in South Korea. News accounts indicate that South Koreans waited as long as twelve hours for their first taste of the American fast-food creation.
Roughly 600 miles away from Seoul, Chinese policymakers are thinking up ways to project China’s economic influence around the world. Best known is China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The latter is a combination of big ticket infrastructure projects combined with trade agreements and the institution of common legal structures said to be necessary to oversee the agreements. Translated for those who need it, the obnoxious conceit of big government will be foisted by China onto other countries.
Despite this, American elites are convulsing. No less than the great James Webb (former U.S. senator and novelist extraordinaire) has taken to the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal to express fear that Beijing is “gaining influence” with the initiative, while the deep in thought at the Council on Foreign Relations make Webb appear extraordinarily calm by comparison. They fear that China’s export of Keynesianism could render it “the hub of global trade,” only for the Council’s hysterics (correction, “Task Force”) to put together a “four-pronged strategy” to address the risks of “BRI.” Oh dear.
Back to reality, it cannot be stressed enough that you don’t fight central government plans with central government plans. Hopefully the previous truth is self-evident, at which point the only answer to China’s Belt and Road Initiative is for the U.S. to pursue freedom. Yes, it’s that basic.
While Chinese political types are in the process of writing trade agreements with other countries, the easy answer for the U.S. is to simply announce no-strings-attached openness to the world’s plenty. Which is something we already have in a broad sense as evidenced by the 1.2% average U.S. tariff across all foreign goods. We’re essentially Hong Kong or Singapore as is on the matter of tariffs, but how about we go for zero? With trade, the only “agreement” is that it should be free.
But wait, some will say, how can we go to zero if other countries are keeping up barriers? Glad you asked. The sole purpose of production is to get things, or to import, whether from across the street or from the other side of the world. Let’s open our markets so that the American people can have the whole world competing to give us discounts, and so that the American people can do the work most associated with their individual genius. Imports sans barriers are the gifts that keep on giving. And they cause foreign countries to reduce their own barriers. Please read on.
Not only is Five Guys an example of what results when Americans are free to specialize, it’s also a beautiful example of how the rest of the world perceives American ingenuity and creativity. They can’t get enough of it. Again, the wait in South Korea was 12 hours.
Applying all this to China’s Belt and Road initiative, we Americans quite simply don’t need our politicians to export big government. We don’t because the greatest American export is personal and economic freedom, and the brilliant businesses that are the happy consequence of that freedom.
On Independence Day, let’s be clear that the path to “gaining influence” the world over is paved with freedom, not politicians handing out the money of others. But if China’s political class wants to pay for the roads that individuals around the world will drive on in order visit American businesses, let them.