Does the U.S. need an auto industry?

Here is the symposium, I was in a Bryan Caplan and Don Boudreaux sort of mood when I emailed in my answer:

I’m an economist not a business forecaster, so I don’t have any particular predictions about Chrysler and G.M. We do know that Ford is likely to survive.

More important, there are some very efficient Toyota plants in the United States. That too is part of our domestic automobile industry and those plants employ a large number of American workers.

You might think that Toyota is different because it is a Japanese company rather than an American one. But in fact Toyota is a publicly traded company, as are most of the other major automobile makers. That means any American can, any time he or she wants, buy some Toyota shares and make Toyota more of an “American company” and less of a “Japanese company.”

Have you gone out and bought those shares? Maybe not. Maybe that means you don’t really care about whether Toyota is a Japanese or an American company. If you have bought Toyota shares, maybe it is simply because you thought that the company was a good investment. That’s O.K., there is nothing wrong with those attitudes. In fact those attitudes are a sign of your rationality.

Our automobile industry could be much more “American” if we really cared to make it so. But we don’t. Our behavior as investors and consumers is usually more rational than the claims we offer up in politics and in public discourse.


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