[C]alling on Americans to “win the future” misleads us about the nature of the policy choices ahead. Achieving economic prosperity is not like winning a game, and guiding an economy is not like managing a sports team.Good stuff.
To see why, let’s start with a basic economic transaction. You have a driveway covered in snow and would be willing to pay $40 to have it shoveled. The boy next door can do it in two hours, or he can spend that time playing on his Xbox, an activity he values at $20. The solution is obvious: You offer him $30 to shovel your drive, and he happily agrees.
The key here is that everyone gains from trade. By buying something for $30 that you value at $40, you get $10 of what economists call “consumer surplus.” Similarly, your young neighbor gets $10 of “producer surplus,” because he earns $30 of income by incurring only $20 of cost. Unlike a sports contest, which by necessity has a winner and a loser, a voluntary economic transaction between consenting consumers and producers typically benefits both parties.
This example is not as special as it might seem. The gains from trade would be much the same if your neighbor were manufacturing a good — knitting you a scarf, for example — rather than performing a service. And it would be much the same if, instead of living next door, he was several thousand miles away, say, in Shanghai.
Listening to the president, you might think that competition from China and other rapidly growing nations was one of the larger threats facing the United States. But the essence of economic exchange belies that description. Other nations are best viewed not as our competitors but as our trading partners. Partners are to be welcomed, not feared. As a general matter, their prosperity does not come at our expense....
The president is right that we should encourage a greater number of highly educated foreigners to migrate here. Because skilled workers pay more in taxes than they receive in government benefits, increasing their supply would reduce the fiscal burden on the rest of us. But if these foreign students decide to return home, as many do, we shouldn’t worry that they are competing against us.
Instead, we should view higher education in the United States as one of our most successful export industries. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but most of the best universities. Is it any wonder that students from many nations flock here to learn? And as they do so, they create opportunities for Americans — from the professors who teach the classes to the grounds crews who maintain the campuses.
When the foreign students head home, they take the human capital acquired here to become productive members of their own communities. They spread up-to-date knowledge, so it can foster prosperity everywhere. Some of this knowledge is technological. Some of it concerns business, legal and medical practices. And some is even more fundamental, such as the values of democracy and individual liberty. Nothing could be better for the United States than these thousands of American-trained ambassadors who have seen at first hand the benefits of a free and open society.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Mankiw: You Don't "Win the Future"
Greg Mankiw has a great op-ed in tomorrow's NYT about the wrongheadedness of trying to "win the future," as President Obama challenged us to do in his State of the Union Address. Mankiw hits on several of the fundamental issues that I've discussed here, including the President's continued - and misguided - adherence to what I call "adversary economics." I highly recommend the whole thing. Here's a sample: