There are often calls to "protect American industry" by imposing high tariffs on goods made in other countries. The idea behind tariffs is that they will encourage -- if not force -- Americans to buy domestically produced goods, and promote job creation in this country.
But when one country raises barriers to trade, other countries respond in kind with their own barriers. The result of such protectionism can be a downward spiral in which economic activity drops. Stiff tariffs were, in fact, among the causes of the Great Depression of the 1930s.
If you doubt the importance of international trade, just consider some figures from a recent article in the Times Free Press about the benefits of world commerce to Chattanooga and Hamilton County:
In Tennessee, Hamilton County is second only to Shelby County -- where Memphis is located -- in terms of the number of local businesses that export goods. That is according to a study by the Business and Economic Research Center at Middle Tennessee State University.
Nearly 200 businesses in Hamilton County export goods.
Almost 11,000 jobs in Hamilton County are linked to exports.
The article noted that one local company, Astec Industries, an asphalt equipment maker, has expanded its international sales staff from seven to 36 in just the past five years. And, the president of the company, Ben Brock, said, "[W]e're adding about one more a month."
Ironically, overseas sales of U.S. goods are benefiting from the current weakness of the dollar, which makes our goods cheaper to buy abroad. With the weak economy here at home, we're certainly glad that thousands of Chattanooga-area jobs are being sustained by sales of the goods local companies export.
International trade is complicated, but we would be in a real economic pickle without it.