The Atlantic

The Many Ways 'Buy American' Can Harm the Economy

Barring the government from contracting with foreign firms will decrease competition and squander tax dollars.
Source: Kiichiro Sato / AP

On Tuesday, at the Snap-on tool company in Kenosha, Wisconsin, President Trump stood before an American flag rendered in wrenches and signed a new executive order based on his campaign and inauguration-speech pledge to “buy American and hire American.” The signing ceremony followed a speech about the importance of American manufacturing in which Trump hit some familiar notes, rehashing his narrow election victory as well as promising to “get rid of NAFTA” and saying it’s “ridiculous” that doing so requires him to involve Congress.

But the emotional climax of the speech was his call to end what he dubbed the “theft of American prosperity” by outside forces. This is what the executive order was intended to thwart, by requiring that all of the federal government’s departments “buy American.” (The other half of the order’s mandate is “hire American,” which involves among other things restricting H-1B visas for skilled foreign workers.)

Here’s what “buy American” means in practice: The U.S. government contracts out nearly half a trillion dollars of work per year, putting out requests for firms

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic10 min read
What Pete Buttigieg Says He Did at McKinsey
In an exclusive interview, the presidential candidate reveals the clients he worked with, what he did for them, and how the experience shaped the way he solves problems.
The Atlantic4 min readPolitics
The Doves Were Right. I Was Wrong.
Americans like me ignored—or scorned—protesters who warned of an endless quagmire in Afghanistan. Next time, we should listen to the critics.
The Atlantic8 min readPolitics
Why Nationalists Fail
This year, a graffiti slogan began to appear on walls across Wales. Typically spray-painted in white letters on a red background, it read Cofiwch Dryweryn—“Remember Tryweryn.” The phrase first appeared half a century ago, on a wall in a Welsh seaside