Dear NY Times: Protectionism Isn't the Answer

Editor, The New York Times

229 West 43rd St.

New York, NY 10036

To the Editor:

Jeremy Weir Alderson says that "the No. 1 reason for imposing higher labor standards on imports isn't to improve living standards abroad but to maintain them here" (Letters, Jan. 19). It's true that the real motive for such standards is to protect certain producers in America from having to compete with lower-cost rivals. But it's untrue that access to lower-cost sources of goods and services causes poverty in America.

The greatest source of lower-cost competition for American producers over the years is not cheap foreign workers; it's machinery and technology. Local butchers in the late 19th century could not compete with Chicago slaughterhouses that shipped their beef across the country in new-fangled refrigerated railroad cars. Farmers over the past two hundred years have consistently been displaced by mechanized farm machinery, improved fertilizers and pesticides, better seed varieties, refrigeration, and better materials for packaging produce for storage and shipment. Typists in the late 20th century were out-competed by low-cost word-processing hardware and software.

Lower-cost sources of output do not cause poverty; they alleviate it.


Donald J. Boudreaux


Don Boudreaux is the Chairman of the Department of Economics at George Mason University and a Business & Media Institute adviser.