Maher: To me I think, from a layman’s point of view for the last 20-30 years, America doesn’t make anything. We used to manufacture stuff, cars and stuff. Arabs and Colombians drill oil, Indians make code for computers. China makes DVD’s – they make them out of pigshit and mercury – but they make something. Y’know what America makes? Debt. The Financial Services industry just makes debt, it’s really pushing money around on computers screens.
Krugman: Well, you’re right, and in way we actually do have fair trade with China. They sell us poisoned toys and tainted sea food and we sell them fraudulent securities.
Look, Paul Krugman is smart enough to know he should have challenged Maher on this rather than let his tripe pass by with a joke and a nod. The Krugman I remember – “Ricardo’s Difficult Idea” Krugman, “In Praise of Cheap Labor” Krugman – knows protectionist rhetoric when he sees it and swats it down with a viciousness and lack of mercy to which laymen like myself can only aspire. Why not Maher, then? Why not swat down his idiotic rhetoric?
For the record, America does make things. We make software – harp on Indian outsourcing all you want, but we’re better at it than anyone else. We make biotech products, with no other country even coming close. We make culture – the movies in the DVDs that China makes – and we make blueprints – the blueprints that Chinese laborers use when building our toys and electronics. I guess Bill Maher would prefer we build things that only require assembly lines and pairs of hands (dream big!), but I have higher hopes for us.
But even if we didn’t make things, it wouldn’t matter, because competitiveness is a bogus concept. When China is more efficient at manufacturing goods than we are, that’s good for China, but it’s good for us, too. Trade isn’t a zero-sum game, it’s a positive-sum one. You know how I know this? Because Paul Krugman emphasized it again and again in his ’90s-era writing. What gives? Why not use some of that intellectual firepower against Bill Maher, who sure as hell deserves it?