Let's play the "Extrapolation Game" where I take the concept of Buy American to its limits, and examine the results.
1) Imbalance Of Trade
If we buy NOTHING BUT American products, then we have no imports. Other countries will, naturally, retaliate. With few imports, the balance of trade will shift a great deal, the value of the currency will go up. That sounds good, but there's no point to a strong currency if you're not importing. Meanwhile, the price of our exports will be astronomical, so we won't sell any. There go all the export-based jobs! We will be a closed economy. Anyone see any great examples of wealthy closed economies? USSR? China pre-90s? Cuba? Anyone? Closed economies experience shortages of products that can only be produced elsewhere, like oil or bananas. Less choice is bad. Closed economies limit career opportunities - wanna be a banana executive in the USSR? Closed economies seal themselves off from the bounty of the earth, and limit themselves to what resources and skills exist locally. The net social wealth is diminished.
2) Dig Your Own Grave...And Save!
Do you do all your own plumbing? Your own taxes? Your own car repairs, lawn mowing, food growing, etc? No, you pay a specialist who can do it better or cheaper than you. If that makes sense for you, then it could also make sense as a nation.
Extrapolating the notion of nationalism, let's take it further. Why not just "Buy your state? Buy your town? Buy your neighborhood? Buy from yourself?" Each step you take just makes the net economic outcome worse. But it gets quite obvious when you get down to the neighborhood level. You are losing the big-market benefits of "comparative advantage" and "specialization". Now, to get a banana, I will need to pay my neighbor to plant a tree, water it and put a greenhouse around it. To build a car, he will need to pay me for the five years it takes me to do the job, since I'm just not very good at it. The car, by the way, will be of terrible design and quality. The amount of products...of wealth...that can be produced by our uber-protectionism diminishes at every step we take to reduce our market. By "protecting", we are choosing to introduce economic inefficiencies in every sector. We are choosing regulation over free markets, and we'll be punished for our fear-based choices.
Now, some people may discard this argument, and say "It's ridiculous to propose that I buy a car made by my next-door neighbor. That's a bad analogy, so you can't be serious." But it isn't a bad analogy. Yes, it's ridiculous, but it's an excellent illustration of how ridiculous it is to buy an inferior product from anyone when a better option is available at a fair price. Your neighbor probably can't build a good car at all. Well, newsflash, neither can Chrysler. How different is it buying a car from your neighbor versus buying a Chrysler Sebring, the worst-rated car of 2009 by Consumer Reports, simply because Detroit is closer than Tokyo.
The market is designed to work when consumers make good, informed, self-interested decisions. Philanthropy should be done through charity, not via commerce and the free market. Patriotism should be done through leadership, effort, a willingness to self-evaluate and criticize, and a tolerance of criticism. Patriotism is most certainly not encouraging "good enough" production in the marketplace. If you're satisfied when your country is "good enough" you're not my kind of patriot.
3) Comparative Advantages (CA)
The completely accepted economic concept of Comparative Advantage (CA) occurs where some resource, skill, or input is relatively cheaper in one region than another. If so, that region has a CA, and will focus on selling that resource. This focus may harm another region's ability to sell high volumes of that resource. But while this may hurt some less efficient suppliers of that resource, it is a boon to the overall good. If India has comparative advantage in labor, the world SHOULD be sending labor-intensive production to India to lower "total global costs" of production. The price of labor will increase in that region to a new equilibrium, as we have seen with low-level IT in India. If the US has comparative advantage in technology innovation, people SHOULD be buying their technology from the US...as they do now. In so doing, the world increases productivity, progresses technology, lowers costs of production, and as a world, we can produce more for less. The world then has more to share among the people living on it. Net social gain.
4) More To Share
More for less, or greater global production is really a worthwhile goal. Humanity is wealthier, we have more to share, we will be more productive, which means less wasteful even as it means more output.
When foreigners are wealthier, they are able to enter the global markets as buyers. Thus in being willing to share a little of the earth's bounty, we can radically raise the wealth level of those living at the bottom of the pyramid. In fact, the positive of a little bit of well-placed capital with a poor, but enterprising person can pay far greater dividends to global production than the same capital employed by the average American. The success of Grameen Bank and micro capital illustrate this point convincingly. Then, those successful entrepreneurs abroad will be able to afford the next iPhone from a US company. The global economy is NOT a zero-sum game, where one man's growth represents another man's loss. History has shown that we can all steadily grow together, and that the larger the economic and information community is, the faster it can grow.
5) Peace Dividend
Also, people engaged in gainful commerce seldom try and bomb you or kill you. There is a comfort benefit to this, but also a real economic benefit to having fewer enemies. People with nothing to lose might suicide bomb you. The best antidote for inklings to be a suicide bomber is a job. Let's try to reduce the number of people in the world with nothing to lose, and see if the peace dividend doesn't jump up a notch or two. I'm not saying charity...I'm just saying that if the resource they have to offer is cheap labor, that we should let them sell it to us.
6) What is The Patriotic Thing To Do?
I'll tell you what is patriotic. It's not blindly buying American. It's not how you SHOP at all. It's how you work! It's PRODUCING something that foreigners will buy. Driving exports, that's patriotic. It offers better products to Americans AND foreigners...to all people. It brings dollars INTO America. From there, economic multiplier effects let that trade revenue ripple through the economy with an almost 10x factor on Gross National Product. That creates jobs, creates tax revenues, and funds schools for the next generation of winners. Damn, that's powerful patriotism in action!
Get training in an area that is productive and useful. Get good. Work hard, produce lots of output, make that output high quality, strive for continuous improvement in that product AND in your skills. Be willing to change to adapt to new eras, upgrade your skills. Maybe YOU could be the one to drive the change to a new era, and not just react. Now you're firing on all cylinders. Now you're producing well for yourself, AND for America, AND for all humans. That's patriotic - without taking anything away from people abroad!
Ironically, the very industries that are campaigning for "Buy American" are usually the same ones who don't do the above, and probably aren't interested in starting. If you're a carmaker, get started. Make a car that not only is good enough for Americans to buy instead of a Honda, but that JAPANESE PEOPLE WILL BUY instead of a Honda.