George F. Will highlights two important principles on productivity and protectionism, in A plan to make America 1953 again – The Washington Post:
1. Productivity Improvements Mean Less Workers Are Necessary
Since 1900, the portion of the U.S. workforce in agriculture has declined from 41 percent to less than 2 percent. Output per remaining farmer and per acre has soared since millions of agricultural workers made the modernization trek from farms to more productive employment in city factories. Was this trek regrettable?
[…] According to a Ball State University study, of the 5.6 million manufacturing jobs lost between 2000 and 2010, trade accounted for 13 percent of job losses and productivity improvements accounted for more than 85 percent: “Had we kept 2000-levels of productivity and applied them to 2010-levels of production, we would have required 20.9 million manufacturing workers [in 2010]. Instead, we employed only 12.1 million.” Is this regrettable? China, too, is shedding manufacturing jobs because of productivity improvements.2. “Protecting” Particular Companies From More Efficient Producers Decreases Jobs In Unprotected Industries (Shifts Unemployment)
Levinson notes that Ronald Reagan imposed “voluntary restraints” on Japanese automobile exports, thereby creating 44,100 U.S. jobs. But the cost to consumers was $8.5 billion in higher prices, or $193,000 per job created, six times the average annual pay of a U.S. autoworker. And there were job losses in sectors of the economy into which the $8.5 billion of consumer spending could not flow.
[…] In 2012, Barack Obama boasted that “over a thousand Americans are working today because we stopped a surge in Chinese tires.” But this cost about $900,000 per job, paid by American purchasers of vehicles and tires. And the Peterson Institute for International Economics says that this money taken from consumers reduced their spending on other retail goods, bringing the net job loss from the job-saving tire tariffs to about 2,500. And this was before China imposed retaliatory duties on U.S. chicken parts, costing the U.S. industry $1 billion in sales. Imports of low-end tires from Thailand, Indonesia, Mexico and elsewhere largely replaced Chinese imports.In the long run, the best way to create real jobs, that raise the standard of living, is a free-market.
“Protecting” particular domestic sectors from foreign competition ends up punishing other Americans on the whole with higher prices, less jobs and a reduced standard of living.