National Interest Argument - Explained
What is a National Interest Argument?
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What is a National Interest Argument?
Some argue that a nation should not depend too heavily on other countries for supplies of certain key products, such as oil, or for special materials or technologies that might have national security applications. On closer consideration, this argument for protectionism proves rather weak.
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As an example, in the United States, oil provides about 36% of all the energy and 25% of the oil used in the United States economy is imported. Several times in the last few decades, when disruptions in the Middle East have shifted the supply curve of oil back to the left and sharply raised the price, the effects have been felt across the United States economy. This is not, however, a very convincing argument for restricting oil imports. If the United States needs to be protected from a possible cutoff of foreign oil, then a more reasonable strategy would be to import 100% of the petroleum supply now, and save U.S. domestic oil resources for when or if the foreign supply is cut off. It might also be useful to import extra oil and put it into a stockpile for use in an emergency, as the United States government did by starting a Strategic Petroleum Reserve in 1977. Moreover, it may be necessary to discourage people from using oil, and to start a high-powered program to seek out alternatives to oil. A straightforward way to do this would be to raise taxes on oil. Additionally, it makes no sense to argue that because oil is highly important to the United States economy, then the United States should shut out oil imports and use up its domestic supplies more quickly. U.S. domestic oil production is increasing. Shale oil is adding to domestic supply using fracking extraction techniques.
Whether or not to limit certain kinds of imports of key technologies or materials that might be important to national security and weapons systems is a slightly different issue. If weapons’ builders are not confident that they can continue to obtain a key product in wartime, they might decide to avoid designing weapons that use this key product, or they can go ahead and design the weapons and stockpile enough of the key high-tech components or materials to last through an armed conflict. There is a U.S. Defense National Stockpile Center that has built up reserves of many materials, from aluminum oxides, antimony, and bauxite to tungsten, vegetable tannin extracts, and zinc (although many of these stockpiles have been reduced and sold in recent years).
One final reason why economists often treat the national interest argument skeptically is that lobbyists and politicians can tout almost any product as vital to national security. All too often, the national interest argument has become an excuse for handing out the indirect subsidy of protectionism to certain industries or companies. After all, politicians, not nonpartisan analysts make decisions about what constitutes a key strategic material.
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