Is The Time Right For Economic Patriotism? The government is pushing executives of bailed-out firms to give up bonuses. It's also looking for investors to buy up toxic bank assets. And U.S. automakers want Americans to buy domestic cars. Do such appeals to economic patriotism make sense?
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Is The Time Right For Economic Patriotism?

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Is The Time Right For Economic Patriotism?

Is The Time Right For Economic Patriotism?

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

To help us sort it out, NPR senior business editor Marilyn Geewax is here once again. And Marilyn, remind us, when have Americans made financial decisions based on patriotism?

MARILYN GEEWAX: During World War II, a lot of people really did make decisions based on their patriotic zeal. For example, people would buy war bonds, or they would ration their gasoline voluntarily, people would save tin foil, all sorts of economic decisions that were made on trying to help the U.S. war effort.

HANSEN: If patriotism was a priority then, during World War II, should it be promoted again in this crisis?

GEEWAX: The economists I've asked about this say no, that the best thing to do in this economic crisis is to help the economy work as efficiently as it can. So that means make your best choices, that capitalism works best when we each make decisions based on what allows us to buy the best product at the best price. So, for example, they say if you go out and buy an American car just to buy an American, you're not, you may end up with a car that isn't really what you want, it cost too much, maybe the gas mileage isn't as good. You should do what's best for you and then force U.S. car companies to be as competitive as possible.

HANSEN: So consumers looking for bargains, not necessarily buy American.

GEEWAX: Well, and there seems that there's no evidence that anyone has changed their behavior to buy American. Economists I've talked to say that U.S. car sales seem to be unaffected by any desire to boost the U.S. domestic auto industry. And sales at Wal-Mart are doing very well and, of course, that's a company well-known for bringing in imports from other countries. So we're shopping at Wal-Mart, we're buying the car we want and economists say, actually, that is what we should be doing.

HANSEN: So does that mean that Americans have come to the conclusion that greed is good and it's every man for himself?

GEEWAX: So you've made it a self-interested but sensible economic decision. That's different, they say, from somebody who intentionally tries to scam the markets, you know, with insider trading or people who took bonuses for work that wasn't done, or for losing money for their companies. So there's a difference between making a kind of ruthless, economic, self-interested decision and being a scam artist.

HANSEN: NPR senior business editor Marilyn Geewax, thanks.

GEEWAX: You're welcome.

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