Sarah: All I’m saying, Bob, is that you could have gotten that thing a lot cheaper at the big box store down the street instead of having a friend of a friend hand-sculpt it for you. Bob: (protectively cradling a small toy) That is so unpatriotic of you, Sarah! Down the street at the Walleye General, everything is made overseas! If I’d bought it there, I might as well have shipped off an American job to a foreign country myself! Seamus: Actually… Bob: *sigh* What now? Seamus: I get that it’s upsetting when an American factory lays off workers or shuts down altogether, and it’s good that you want to help those people. But allowing American businesses and their production facilities focus on the things they do better than anyone else is patriotic! When we put barriers to global trade in place, like tariffs, it drives up prices across the board. Not only that, but as people look to local companies to fill the gaps left by the imports they can’t get at a decent price anymore, it forces American companies to make things that they wouldn’t have made, ordinarily. Bob: Well, what’s so bad about that?? Seamus: Think about it like this. Imagine your house is a country. Whatever you can’t make yourself, you have to trade for. Everything you use and consume on an everyday basis in exchange for the things you can make yourself really well, like those cakes you like to bake. Sarah: Bob does bake a really good cake. Bob: Thank you. Sarah: You’re welcome. Seamus: When it comes to cakes, you have what’s called a “comparative advantage.” But when it comes to producing eggs, wheat and milk, you’re your neighbords have the comparative advantage- meaning they can do it way better than you. So you trade with eachother! BUT one day, your neighbor Karen, who also makes cakes but not as well, gets tired of losing out to your superior baking. So she gets together with her friends and convinces them that you’re totally cheating. Bob: (scandalized) I never cheat when baking! Seamus: But she convinces them that you do. So now they won’t sell you flour and you have to grow it and mill it yourself. In fact, you have to produce everything you need to bake a cake by yourself with no outside suppliers. Do you know how to grow wheat for flour, or raise chickens and cows for eggs and milk? Bob: I guess that makes sense for that, but I don’t see what that has to do with national economies. Seamus: When it’s no longer cheaper to hire someone else to make something for you, which is what tariffs do, you have to make everything in-house, as it were, generally for more money than it would cost otherwise. This harms low income people who are no longer able to afford the goods and services once available to them. By the way… who did you buy that thing from anyway? Bob: Oh, my good friend Karen recomended a great toy maker to me! The head of the doll falls off and there is dynomite under it.

Common Sense Soapbox


About this show

Short videos with a punchy, comedic tone and entertaining Socratic characters taking on trending issues and important concepts from a classical liberal perspective, written & animated by Seamus Coughlin.

Bob Gets Himself Into a Trade War

May 28, 2019

Like a lot of people, Bob is getting upset about outsourcing and wants to use tariffs to stop people from importing goods made in China, but Seamus drops by to explain the idea of comparative advantage and why open trade is a huge win for everybody.


Written by Seamus Coughlin & Jennifer Maffessanti
Animated by Seamus Coughlin
Produced by Sean W. Malone


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