Buying something that is made in the US just because it’s made in the US is bad for the US. And if you’re paying more to buy patriotically, it’s bad for you personally. It seems like it’s a good idea to help your fellow Americans to buy products they make, and it is good for those people, but it’s bad for everyone else in the country. Trade with other countries helps the US prosper.

Imagine you want to buy a product and have a choice of one made in your country and one made in another country. Assuming that both are of equal quality (or good enough quality for your needs), you should buy the cheaper one, regardless of where it’s made. If you buy the one made in the US, you pay more, leaving less money for you to buy other things. Having less money is bad for you. It’s also bad for the US because you didn’t give any money to the people in the other country.

How can giving money to another country help the US? The people in the other country are just like you, they need products too. The money you send to them when you buy things allows them to buy American-made products, if they choose. If a US company produces the better product for them, the Americans who make that product profit.

Why do we need the other country to buy from us? There are 6 billion people in the world, i.e., potential buyers of American-made products. There are 300 million Americans, that’s 5% of the world’s consumers. If America doesn’t sell products to the rest of the world, every American needs to spend 20 times more on American-made products than they do now. If you have 2 TVs, you need to buy 38 more (assuming you can find an American-made TV). If you buy a case of Coca-Cola a month, you need to buy 20 cases per month – if you can’t drink that much, just pour it down the drain and be happy that you’re helping the employees of Coca-Cola you’ll never meet. You have to do this for every product you buy. Americans simply can’t do that any more than the people in other countries can do that. So we do need other countries to buy American-made products.

What if we buy foreign-made products but the other country doesn’t play fair and refuses to buy from the US? Even better! This is called a “trade surplus” in your country (your country exports more than it imports) and a “trade deficit” in the other country (their country imports more than it exports). A trade surplus is good for your country for the same reason it’s good for you personally: if you received (imported) more goods than you paid for (exported), you’d be pretty happy. Obviously, it’s in the best interests of the other country to get something back when they send something to your country, so they will buy from US companies too.

And if they still refuse to trade? Technically, trade is not about exchanging actual products, trade is done in money. US dollars are given to the other country. If the other country takes the dollars but doesn’t spend them, they are essentially burning the pieces of paper the dollars are printed on. Less dollars in existence makes you wealthier because each of your dollars are worth more than they used to be. So if we take their products and give them money they don’t use, they’ve been cheated, not the US.

But they will just exchange dollars into their currency and they’ve still cheated the US, right? They can’t do that. Exchanging currency is not magic where one currency is transformed into the other. When you exchange currency you are selling one currency and accepting another currency as payment. If no one wants the currency you’re trying to sell, it’s worthless, just like trying to sell anything that no one wants. If they are refusing to buy American-made products, dollars don’t help them so no one will want dollars because there’s nothing they can buy with them. So dollars are worthless to them in that case. Once again, they’ve essentially burned the dollars you gave them, which makes you wealthier.

So if we trade with them, they will trade with us.

What about the dangers of making other countries wealthy enough to threaten us economically and/or militarily? This is one-sided thinking. The belief here is that money goes from your country to the other country but money never returns to your country from the other country. As I explained above, that won’t happen. Well, it won’t happen unless the US makes lousy products that people in the other country don’t want. But if US companies continue to make products people want, the US will be fine economically and, thanks to taxes, militarily as well. So the companies in the US have to compete. What’s new about that? Competition makes you stronger, lack of competition makes you lazy and weaker. Buying American-made products simply because they’re American-made makes America lazy and weak.