Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek argues again that Chinese subsidization of its exporters through an (alleged) undervalued renmimbi means that Americans get more output at lower costs, and asks "What’s the problem?" We could also invoke Bastiat's famous Candlemakers' Petition, and think of China as the sun, providing us with manufactured goods for prices so low that it's almost like getting free light from the sun. After all, if China was willing to ship goods for free as gifts to the American people, it would be even better than subsidized low prices, and we would really want to ask the question: "What's the problem?" We could also invoke Steven Landsburg's excellent essay on "The Iowa Car Crop" and look at trade with China as a form of technology. To paraphrase Landsburg, "The fact that there is a place called China, with people and factories, is quite irrelevant to Americans’ well-being when we get access to cheap manufactured goods. To analyze trade policies, we might as well assume that China is a giant machine with mysterious inner workings that produces manufactured goods at incredibly low prices." And we could ask the question: If China could produce cheap goods for Americans because it developed some amazing new technology, we wouldn't complain, so why complain when the result is the same because of a currency policy that gives us the same result. Maybe we should think of China's currency policy as an "advanced form of technology with a giant machine with mysterious inner workings" that miraculously produces products for Americans at prices that rival the sun's provision of free light.
updated Sep 28, 2010
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