“We fail to remember, for instance, that it was the internal combustion engine that gave oil its present value, and not the other way around.” – Warren Brookes, The Economy In Mind, p. 30
“Whether you’re in Hollywood or acting in London’s West End, your Botox is 100 percent guaranteed Irish.” Those are the words of Westport (Ireland) resident Simon Wall, as told to Allure magazine reporter Jenny Bailly.
For Allure’s December edition, Bailly wrote a fascinating article about Botox, its origins, its global usage, how it’s meticulously produced to prevent the death of millions…What Bailly perhaps didn’t know is that an article almost certainly written to appeal to Allure’s beauty-focused readers could also double as an economics lesson. Life instructs, and in this case beautifying chemicals do too.
For one, Bailly’s report vivifies yet again the genius of free trade. All of the world’s Botox is quite literally produced in a “craggy, wind-lashed” coastal town 156 miles from Dublin. So even though Westport seemingly has end-of-earth qualities, appearance-focused Los Angelenos (for instance) utilize the fruits of its production as though Botox were “buried underneath the Hollywood Hills.”
On the other hand, barriers to trade render the world brutally large. If taxes on exchange are too onerous, work’s sole purpose (to import) is deprived of substantial meaning. As opposed to the world’s plenty reaching us as though it was produced next door, life’s necessities and luxuries become harder and harder to attain. In a Botox sense, some would say the inability to trade without governments taxing the exchange causes us to be uglier.
The factory in which Botox is produced in Westport employs roughly 1,200. This is notable from a trade perspective when we remember that what’s created at Allergan’s plant “travels to 96 countries around the world.” Think about that for a minute, and then think about this odd focus on “trade deficits” among politicians. Applied to Botox, well-to-do people spanning the globe run a “trade deficit” with Allergan’s Westport plant and its 1,200 workers, but few would presume that these unassuming workers are “ripping off” a global customer base that includes models, movie stars, millionaires and billionaires.
The beauty business is lucrative and global, and a not insignificant portion of the money the world spends is on a product produced in a town most have never heard of. The fact that Westport’s #1 export is utilized in so many countries exists as loud evidence that Allergan’s plant in a distant coastal town has met the needs of millions in a truly grand way. So if imports are a sign of consumers being “ripped off” as some naively believe, we need to be ripped off much more often.
It’s all a useful reminder that “trade deficits” are the reward for hard work, and the imports that unearth naïve talk of “deficits” are yet another reminder that the fruits of work (what we import) are what improve us. Botox surely improves the appearance of its users if its global popularity is any kind of indicator. Interesting here is that Bailly notes a “highly mobile” quality to the foreheads in Westport; as in the town’s humble residents make Botox, as opposed to “importing” it. Assuming Botox sales continue to grow such that wealth in Westport grows, will the town’s top export become a top “import”? This will be an interesting development to see unfold.
Needless to say, the citizens of towns that abut Westport plainly hope that genius of the Allergan variety finds its way to them in the way that it did to Westport. Bailly quotes Wall as saying that other than Westport, “People are leaving [Ireland’s small towns] to go to the big cities” such that some of Ireland’s smaller towns and cities “are pretty much shutting down.” This development raises a question about why Westport prospers amid struggles for towns nearby. The dynamic is a reminder that individual genius drives prosperity, not mineral wealth.
Indeed, mentioned earlier was the careful way in which Botox is produced. Botox is a byproduct of botulinum neurotoxin type A, and not something that just anyone can fiddle with. Bailly cites an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association which says that “a single gram of botulinum toxin in crystalline form, ‘evenly dispersed and inhaled, would kill more than 1 million people.’” This is potent stuff apparently, which explains why the manufacture of Botox is conducted with such detail-oriented, high security, no phones or tape recorders in the factory, care.
It calls to mind the quote that begins this piece. Taking nothing away from oil’s discovery, and the wondrous impact of oil’s discovery on human progress, what gave crude its immense value were the minds who developed brilliant advances like the internal combustion engine. Oil is of the earth, and as such has always existed. Machines are a product of the mind. What’s true about oil and the engine is similarly true about botulinum neurotoxin A and a marketable innovation that emerged from it: Botox. Great minds produced the latter, and in the process created an industry while bringing life to a town neighbored by others not doing so well. Simply put, humans drive progress.
It’s bad enough when governments put up barriers to physical goods and services in the form of tariffs, but it’s much worse when those same politicians erect barriers to the people without which there’s no advance. Botox didn’t bring opportunity to Westport, but people far away from Westport did. That people lifted a town that was arguably headed for obsolescence is the greatest economic lesson of all from Jenny Bailly’s article, and it’s hopefully one that politicians of all ideological stripes will take note of.