Walmart vs Boeing, Which Enhances US Economic Welfare?
When Walmart imports inexpensive Chinese consumer goods, it causes US consumption to rise, both of the imported goods themselves and of domestic goods as well, now more affordable due to both an increased residual consumer purchasing power and an increased purchasing power of the monetary unit resulting from the reduction of the money supply remaining in the US. This all results in an increased standard of living in the US.
On the other hand, when Boeing exports a 747 to China, it is using up both material and human resources in exchange for money. This money increases the purchasing power of Boeing shareholders and employees, but the result is the bidding away of consumption from almost everyone else. Total consumption is likely to be lower as no new consumer goods are produced, and some are lost as productive resources are re-directed outward. Also, the purchasing power of the monetary unit is reduced with the increase in the money supply. What we seem to have is large increases in the standard of living for those involved in the 747 production and export and small decreases in the standard of living for the hundreds of millions not so involved. There is no valid way to produce a net of the contrasting effects.
Both imports and exports are the result of voluntary, mutually beneficial exchange. However, imports seem to have positive overall welfare effects, whereas exports seem to be largely re-distributive in nature.
Of course, this violates the conventional wisdom that tends to say that exports are good and imports are bad, and seems to indicate that usefulness of trade balances is questionable, so feel free to identify any flaws you find in the arguments above.