Issue of the week: The trouble with ‘Buy American’
President Trump just took a big step toward delivering on his promises to American workers, said Andy Schlafly in Townhall.com. At an event in Wisconsin last week, Trump unveiled an executive order that increases scrutiny of visas for skilled foreign workers and directs federal agencies to favor American companies in awarding contracts. These commonsense moves are long overdue. “If taxpayers are funding a project, then it obviously makes sense to use American goods for it.” But “it is not enough to ‘Buy American.’ It is also important to ‘Hire American.’” Too many companies have abused the H-1B visa program by using it to bypass qualified U.S. workers in favor of cheaper foreigners. President Trump gets it: America’s best jobs belong to Americans.
I’m old enough to remember when conservatives opposed this kind of anti-capitalist nonsense, said David Harsanyi in The Federalist.com. “It’s hardly abusive for industries to decide whom they want to hire instead of letting government decide for them.” H-1B visas are vital for the tech industry, which is already grappling with a shortage of Americans trained in science and engineering. Many foreigners who have come in on H-1Bs have also gone on to found companies here in America, which in turn creates American jobs. As for ‘Buy American,’ “this is what Republicans used to call ‘picking winners and losers.’” If you opposed the government’s bailing out of auto companies that couldn’t compete in a global marketplace, why would you support propping up the steel industry?
Talk about a recipe for corruption and cronyism, said Kevin Williamson in National Review. U.S. law already requires the government to favor U.S. firms—and has for decades. But “Washington loves a waiver,” and exceptions exist for goods that aren’t available or cost too much. The rules can also be bypassed if a deal serves “the public interest.” That gives a lot of power to politicians, who can steer contracts toward their friends and donors. It’s also a good way to cost the government money, said Nicholas Clairmont in TheAtlantic.com. U.S. companies that don’t have foreign competition have no reason to innovate or lower their prices. “For an administration that wants to dramatically reduce federal spending, restricting bidders to American firms works directly against” its goal.
Whatever the merits, exhortations to Buy and Hire American are “remarkably hypocritical” coming from Trump, said Philip Bump in The Washington Post. His properties, including Mar-a-Lago and Trump National Golf Club, have applied to fill more than 500 positions with foreign workers since 2013. His branded ties and other apparel are also made overseas. “It’s not clear what, if anything, will change” thanks to this order, anyway, said Adam Davidson in NewYorker.com. The vague language merely requires the secretary of Commerce to provide agencies with “guidance.” Meanwhile, the “real problems in the American economy”—stagnant wages and increasing inequality—go unaddressed. Effective economic policy requires more substance, and less theatrics. ■