The USA’s Dependency on Foreign Imports of…

I bet you thought that the next word was going to be “oil”, right? Guess again Mr. Smartenheimer. The next words are “manufactured goods.”

In 2010, the USA imported $364.9 billion worth of goods from China.

That was more than our oil imports of $343 billion.

Staggering, no?

We are all worried about revolution in the Middle East cutting off our supply of oil, but what about a revolution in China cutting off our supply of electronics?

Libertarian economists brush off the fact that we have lost a huge number of manufacturing jobs by citing improvements in productivity. While I am sure that great strides have been made in manufacturing productivity, I have a question: If our workers are now so fabulously productive, why can’t they make the mountains of products that we import?

Riddle me that.

Yes, the USA is still the world’s largest manufacturing nation. But what is the trend?

Beating up on small countries like Iraq and Afghanistan is pretty easy for us. But what if we had to fight a prolonged land war with a real nation? Like China? We had plenty of trouble with the Chinese during the Korean War when we were a manufacturing titan and China was a nation of rice farmers in ruins after its civil war and Japanese invasion. The Chinese infantry inflicted heavy casualties on the US Marines.

Could we win a ground war in Korea today if the Chinese came in again, this time with tremendous industrial capacity?

Maybe if Mexico were on our side, and allowed us to use all the plants that we moved down there to make tanks and other weapons. But of course, Mexico has never been a US military ally. Maybe they will be nice to us in the future though. Keep your fingers crossed…

General MacArthur warned against getting into land wars in Asia. He wasn’t eager to take on Asia’s endless manpower. But now that manpower is backed-up with endless industrial capacity, which they have been able to build thanks to free access to our market.

Military experts say that the USA and South Korea could make short work of North Korea. But having American and South Korean troops on their border isn’t any more acceptable to the Chinese today than it was 60 years ago. Imagine if the Chinese sent in well-equipped ground forces while simultaneously embargoing our supply of electronics and rare-earth minerals?

MacArthur wouldn’t want anything to do with that, and neither would I. Remember the long delays in getting reinforced Humvees to Iraq? Making steel is a challenge for us now. Imagine if we were fighting a force armed with more than IEDs.

Note: To calculate oil imports for 2010, I got the total number of barrels imported from here, and multiplied it by the average price of oil (about $80) from here.