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An impressive body of evidence (see, e.g., here and here) is now shedding light on the dangers of letting specialists in a single field (in this case, public health) dictate policy toward a multi-dimensional challenge like the CCP Virus. For all their supposed expertise on virology and epidemiology, the leaders of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health simply weren’t qualified to take into account the affects of indiscriminate lockdowns and mandates on measures of well-being like economic growth, employment and living standards; educational attainment; and even other dimensions of physical and psychological well-being like opioid use and childhood development.

The best outcomes were always likeliest to come from elected leaders able to see the bigger picture (at least in theory) by drawing on the views of experts from all relevant disciplines.

Just recently, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has unwittingly exposed the dangers of letting economists dictate national responses to the varied perils underscored first by the pandemic and now by the Ukraine war of over-reliance on problematic suppliers of critical goods in a wide range of industries.

According to a chapter in its new forthcoming World Economic Outlook, the kinds of “Policy proposals to reduce dependence on foreign suppliers, especially in strategic sectors [that] have gained prominence…including in major markets such as Europe and the United States…may be premature, if not misguided.” Instead, “greater diversification in international sourcing of inputs and greater substitutability in input sourcing” would be a much better approach to strengthening supply chain resilience and ensuring adequate access to these products.

But at least when it comes to the United States, the IMF doesn’t even describe the situation accurately. It’s true that during his presidential campaign, Joe Biden set a goal of boosting U.S. manufacturing output, that a principal aim has been improving supply chain security, and that one element of his plan has been to replace imports with U.S.-made goods via better enforcement of the federal government’s Buy America programs. Moreover, the President has been following through.

But it’s also true, as I’ve pointed out repeatedly, that the Biden approach also includes exactly the kind of supplier diversification urged by the IMF – specifically to countries like treaty allies that supposedly deserve to be “trusted.”

And even though these new supply chain policies are mainly intended to achieve crucial goals like enhanced national security and health security, the Fund’s study defines these aims out of existence. As observed in the Wall Street Journal‘s coverage, “The analysis didn’t address that some countries are seeking to bolster domestic supply chains as a national-security issue, and not strictly as the most economically efficient option.”

In fact, like the Biden administration, the IMF study also overlooks a major lesson on the reliability of diversity that became glaringly obvious during the worst days of pandemic. During that terrible first wave in early 2020, no fewer than 80 countries imposed limits on their exports of healthcare goods. These countries – which clearly prioritized the health of their own citizens over that of foreign populations, much less over global trade rules – included all the major economies of Western and Central Europe (even the United Kingdom), along with South Korea.

Yet this IMF study fails on some major purely economic grounds, too. Most important, it ignores the United States’ vast and distinctive degree of self-sufficiency in a wide range of goods and services, and its impressive potential to achieve more. As I wrote in this 2019 article, there’s no reason to doubt that the huge and already highly diverse U.S. economy can handle the great majority of its own economic needs while maintaining entirely satisfactory degrees of the benefits of competition (e.g., low prices, high quality, continuous innovation) by taking anti-trust enforcement much more seriously.

In short, I noted, what’s essential for keeping pressure on businesses to keep getting better isn’t “international competition.” For an economy the scale of the United States, domestic competition should nearly always suffice if government policies help maintain its intensity.

In fact, some confirmation of this claim just appeared in a new study by the World Trade Organization (WTO) on how the Ukraine war could well affect global trade and economic development. Looking further down the road, the WTO examined five possible post-Ukraine scenarios for global trade, with the most extreme being the splitting of the world “into two hypothetical blocs with only low trade barriers remaining within each bloc. This means that trade between blocs would be replaced by trade within blocs in this scenario.”

The WTO’s economists believe that this outcome would reduce global output of goods and services by five percent as compared with a future in which world trade patterns remain basically the same. But the cost to the U.S. economy was much less – just one percent.

The WTO calls all these projections under-estimates because trade within these blocs probably won’t increase, and because for several other reasons, such decoupling would create a much messier and even less efficient structure for global trade.

Yet the United States, for its part, has ample incentive to replace its imports of relatively unsophisticated manufactures from East Asia with purchases from Mexico and Central America – curbing immigration. In fact, the American textile industry has just informed us that this scenario is beginning to play out.

Moreover, there’s no reason to think that even WTO’s relatively optimistic decoupling projections for the United States have taken into account America’s extensive possibilities for replacing imports with domestic goods if competition levels within the country are ratcheted up by breaking up monopolies and oligopolies.

Finally, both the IMF and the WTO completely overlook the enormous purely economic advantages the U.S. economy would reap from decoupling – like better chances of preventing and mitigating the staggering economic costs of future pandemics, and the greater certainty businesses would enjoy from reduced vulnerability from geopolitical turmoil abroad, or from the caprice that even allied countries displayed during the pandemic. Think of decoupling as insurance – which businesses and individuals alike seem to view as a pretty economically sensible investment, even if the IMF and the WTO apparently have never heard of the concept.