If Congressman Peter Defazio (D–OR), sponsor of the End the Trade Deficit Act, had grown up in Kansas instead of Massachusetts, he might have learned a valuable lesson from an association called the Kansas Agri-Women.
In 1978, this group started placing billboards across the state proclaiming, “One Kansas farmer feeds 55 people + YOU.” The Agri-Women regularly had to update their billboards as farmers became more productive. Each year, one Kansas farmer could feed more people than he could the year before.
By 1999, the billboards advertised that one Kansas farmer feeds 128 people—plus you. Eventually, rather than continually having to update the billboards as farmers kept getting better at their jobs, the group changed the text to read: “One Kansas farmer feeds more than 128 people.”
Compare the Agri-Women’s approach to Defazio’s recent lament: “The U.S. has lost 3,718,000 manufacturing jobs since 1998.” But as previous Heritage Foundation studies have shown, those jobs were lost because U.S. manufacturing workers, like the farmers praised by the Kansas Agri-Women, kept getting more and more productive.
After accounting for inflation, manufacturing output was 1.9 percent lower in the recession year of 2008 than in 1998. While American manufacturing workers produced almost as much in 2008 as in 1998, it took fewer of them to do it. A U.S. worker who made about $23,000 worth of manufactured goods in 1998 produced $37,000 in 2008. That’s a remarkable 58 percent increase in productivity.
Instead of celebrating that improvement, Rep. Defazio complains about alleged “U.S. trade policies that have allowed huge multinational corporations to export our industrial manufacturing base.”
Such arguments simply distract policymakers from the real threat to the U.S. manufacturing base: Government policies that make Americans less free.