April 18, 2016 | By: Chris Arnold
Economists for decades have agreed that more open international trade is good for the U.S. economy. But recent research finds that while that’s still true, when it comes to China, the downside for American workers has been much more painful than the experts predicted.
And that’s playing out on the presidential campaign trail in a big way.
If you’re Bernie Sanders and you want to get your supporters fired up at a rally, bashing trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a good way to go. Sanders recently said to huge applause that his opponent Hillary Clinton wasn’t qualified to be president because she supported “every disastrous trade agreement, which has cost us millions of decent-paying jobs.”
Likewise, in a Fox News debate, Donald Trump said the TPP is “a horrible deal.”
“It’s a deal that was designed for China to come in as they always do through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone,” he said.
But it’s worth noting that China isn’t even part of the TPP deal. The TPP is actually seen as an attempt to limit China’s power and influence in trade. So Trump’s criticism there is “just off-the-scales wrong,” says David Autor, a labor economist at MIT.
Autor has been researching trade with China for years. He says the political rhetoric is often a confused mess, but it gets loud applause at rallies and debates because it’s tapping into something real. “I think what politicians are correctly responding to is the reality that the last 35 years have been bad ones for blue-collar Americans,” he says.
During that period, wages have been stagnant. Millions of manufacturing jobs have disappeared. It’s not just trade that’s to blame. Technology plays a big role: With computers and automation, factories and all kinds of other workplaces need fewer people. And that kills a lot of jobs.
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