90% of America's Imports

President George Bush is reputed to have said “90% of Americas imports are
now coming from overseas.” This unfortunate statement is deceptively
meaningful, but false. If accurate it suggests one of three (equally
plausible) things about the President:

(1) He doesn’t have a firm enough grasp of economics to know that imports
come from other countries;

(2) He is woefully incorrect about the basic facts of American trade;

(3) He cares more for rhetoric than truth.

Consider first this interpretation of the quote: “90% of our imports come
from other countries.” This implies that somehow 10% of American imports
come from America itself, which defies definition:

things brought from a foreign or external source; especially : things
(such as merchandise) brought into a place or country from another

The second, more charitable interpretation of the quote: “90% of our
imports cross the oceans from other countries.” This sense is meaningful,
but untrue. Approximately 20% of American imports come from Canada and
another 12% come from Mexico. Therefore upwards of 32% of American imports
come from neighboring countries, primarily over the land borders. This
leaves only 68% of imports to come from “overseas”, substantially lower
than the 90% alleged in the quote. You would think a Texas governor would
have a better grasp of the trade significance of Mexico (which by itself
makes the quote untrue).

The final interpretation is “trade is important”. Assume that the quote is
mere rhetoric and it’s factual content is irrelevant then you can
recognize the symbolism it ties up: 90% = important; imports = good
economy; overseas = other countries. In short: “Trading with other
countries is good.”

[Thanks to [email protected]sdf from bringing
up the quote on bboard.]