I want to do a bit more beating up on a NYT piece this morning on breaking ties with China. There is a widely held view in policy circles that the pandemic showed that our extensive economic ties with China are a bad thing. I will ask a simple question, how?
First to get over some obvious points, yes, China has an authoritarian government that does not respect basic human rights. That is true, but what exactly do we hope to do about it? If we cut our imports from China by half or even put a complete embargo on them, do we think it will improve their human rights record?
I suppose we could have more impact if we got most of the rest of the world to go along, but apart from a few puppet states, no one would follow the U.S. in banning trade from China. Everyone knows that the U.S. doesn't give a damn about democracy. Just last year we helped to overthrow a democratically electedgovernment in Bolivia and installed someone who got almost no votes. No one here cared.
So the question is if the U.S. and a few inconsequential puppets stopped buying stuff from China, would it prompt its leadership to show more respect for human rights? Be serious.
Okay, but the pandemic spread from China and this was in part because its government withheld information about the spread of the disease. That's true and what does it have to do with our ties to China. I suppose if we had no trade and travel with China then we would have had to get the pandemic from somewhere else, which seems to be the case.
Alright, so we would have gotten the pandemic here even if we didn't rely on China for anything. But when we were first hit with the pandemic we were short of items like face masks and other protective gear, which we were importing from China.
This is a common gotcha for those arguing the case against China reliance. But this actually shows nothing. We had a shortage of protective gear because we had not stockpiled it and saw a sudden surge in demand. The problem was that we had not stockpiled protective gear, not that it was coming from China. Suppose we made all our protective gear in the good old USA, could our factories suddenly ramp up production by a factor of five or ten? Not on this planet they couldn't. So this argument about reliance on China is an argument about maintaining stockpiles of important medical gear.
What about other items where our supply chain was interrupted because China reduced or stopped production back in January or February? Well, there were some spot shortages of some items, but these were mostly inconveniences. Did people find themselves unable to buy cars, washing machines, iPhones, or anything else during the last five months? (Okay, toilet paper was in short supply, but I don't think we can blame China.) And, for those folks who may have missed it, we also had some factories shut down here.