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State construction projects: Made in China?

Why is it that whenever U.S. lawmakers say they don’t want to enter into a race to the bottom with China, the evil they wish to avoid is low wages and never government interference in markets?

Amid the discussion on a series of jobs bills before the state Assembly on Tuesday, Democrats put forward a proposal that would require Wisconsin to go to U.S. companies as much as possible to buy materials needed for construction projects, regardless of cost or other considerations.

The bill, which didn’t stand a chance of being adopted by the Republicans who control the Legislature, would have gone far beyond a current law mandating that made-in-the-USA products be bought only when those products are substantially equal in every way, including price, to something made by a foreign rival.

ANDY JORGENSEN, Democrat, 43rd Assembly District

Madison
Office

Room 113 North
State Capitol
P.O. Box 8952
Madison, WI 53708

Telephone:
608-266-3790
888-534-0043

Fax: 608-282-3643

Email: Rep.Jorgensen@legis.wisconsin.gov

Voting Address
1148 Brown Drive
Milton, WI 53563

State Rep. Andy Jorgenson, D-Milton, quickly dispelled any doubts over which country the proposal, which he brought to Assembly floor on Tuesday, was aimed at.

“If we start buying this infrastructure from China, how many jobs will be left for our children and our grandchildren?” he said.

Aside from making me wonder how much Chinese concrete and steel really goes into state government projects, the proposal struck me as odd because it runs almost exactly counter to the recommendations experts commonly put forward for improving the Chinese economy. Hardly a day goes by that the editorial page of my former employer, the China Daily, does not run some usually jargon-riddled article calling for the reduction of government interference in markets as a way of prolonging China’s recent economic accomplishments.

A search of the newspaper’s website on Tuesday turned up one almost immediately.

In bringing up the “buy American” bill for consideration Tuesday, Jorgenson managed a neat little trick, both taking a swipe at what he deemed Republicans’ rather meager jobs bills and staking out a position that is bound to be popular with his constituents.

“Every dollar we spend in America on construction projects buys not only bridges and roadways,” he said, “but also job opportunities and overall growth.”

Maybe one reason I don’t see Chinese leaders making similar statements, although they certainly have adopted their fair share of protectionist policies, is that they don’t have to answer to voters. Part of the cause, though, also almost certainly lies in the country’s economic situation — China is at the end of a short burst of growth buoyed, in large part, by state intervention and protection. Now that those policies are yielding smaller and smaller dividends, Chinese leaders are paying closer attention to those who insist further prosperity can only come by a further opening-up of the domestic market.

Americans, in contrast, have watched almost helplessly as their long-standing commitment to free markets has done little to prevent their country’s once world-beating manufacturing industry from going overseas. Now they are as much worried about a further loss of industry as they are that a permanent lowering of wages will be the price of bringing companies back.

But it is odd that, in proposing a way to avoid a race to the bottom on wages, U.S. lawmakers almost always come back to the very policies that many in China are now trying to abandon.

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