Christmas Tree Protectionism
Whether it’s for cheap steel or cheap tires, Americans are supposed to be afraid of trade with China because it provides us with products we want at low prices. But to the damage allegedly inflicted on our economy by those who would save us money, must we now add…artificial Christmas trees?
According to a November 27 story in Breitbart News, Chinese companies dominate the domestic market, and their fake trees are “driving” Christmas tree-growers in Oregon out of business. The number of fake trees sold in the U.S. “more than doubled” from 2010 to 2016 (my wife and I contributed to that statistic, purchasing our beloved tree in 2014) while the number of Christmas trees cut and sold dropped by twenty-six percent. The number of “active growers” dropped by thirty percent. All of which is supposed to alarm us.
There’s no reason to be concerned. Demand for real trees is declining in favor of artificial trees because more consumers prefer their convenience, quality, and price. Breitbart claims this is a “vicious cycle,” but it’s just a reflection of consumer desire.
Consumers in the U.S. are buying fake trees because they are cheaper, and because they believe fake trees to be healthier and safer. In a market economy we each decide to the best of our ability which products and services we require; that’s an important part of life in a free society. Oregon tree-growers will suffer the ill-effects of this trend, but players in the market voluntarily take that risk (for which they rightly deserve any reward). Consumers save money, which can then be spent on other things we desire, and our homes have fewer allergens. Perhaps even fewer fires.
Breitbart warns that fake trees aren’t biodegradable! True. But neither are American-made artificial Christmas trees, and regardless of who makes them they practically last forever. And the land previously used to grow trees can now be put to more efficient and productive use, or donated to a land trust, or opened to hiking or hunting. The labor and resources required to grow, chop and ship trees around the country will be employed satisfying other demands. Humanity is better served.
Over a century and a half ago, a French economist named Frederic Bastiat urged his readers to embrace free trade, to look beyond the “immediate and temporary effects” of economic changes and displacements “to their general and ultimate consequences,” which ended up being a general standard of living today for common people that is far greater than even nobility enjoyed in the glory of Imperial Rome. Protectionists can bash Chinese artificial trees, but they better satisfy consumers. That’s the whole point of trade.