Professional economists generally look for ways of improving labor productivity. And most economists would take a dim view of protectionism (and other market barriers). So you would think that the US transit industry, with its dismal labor productivity, is fertile ground for research, right?
Apparently not. Consider this “Research Brief” written by Dr. Jeanette Wicks-Lim at the UMass Political Economy Research Institute. Called How “Buying American” Can Raise the Job-Creation, the report argues in favor of greater Buy-America requirements for transit vehicles purchases:
How many jobs does the U.S. economy gain when manufacturers raise the domestic content of their products? This research brief presents estimates which show that, on average, when manufacturers fully source the components and subcomponents of their vehicles domestically they create at least 26 percent more jobs than manufacturers that only meet the 60 percent Buy America requirement.
What she fails to consider is that the 100% Buy-America vehicle will be as much as 2x more expensive. It will also be much less reliable, and take years to custom-design.
That extra expense is an opportunity cost. Billions of dollars is being wasted that could go towards expanding the transit network, or running more transit service. Those things provide jobs too. As well, the overall economy would see benefits from have more extensive and frequent transit service.