“It’s more complicated than that” is a sentence I probably mutter in my sleep. (My students think I repeat it on a daily basis, sort of like a mantra.)
In a New York Times op-ed a couple of weeks ago, Miriam Sapiro, who was a deputy U.S. trade representative from 2009 to 2014, addressed one of the many subjects that is more complicated than either free-trade purists or knee-jerk opponents of markets understand, in “What Trump and Sanders Get Wrong About Free Trade.”
After noting that the United States enjoys a 200 billion dollar trade surplus, she points out that unless we continue working to pry open foreign markets for American goods and services, we will have a hard time creating more jobs: Nearly all of the world’s population lives outside our borders.
The Department of Commerce estimates that every increase of $1 billion in exports sustains nearly 6,000 jobs, and that export-related jobs pay on average 18 percent more than jobs focused on the domestic market.
We Americans have an unfortunate tendency toward “either/or” arguments. Trade is good or bad. We are for it or against it. But this is one of those areas in which the question is not–or should not be–yes or no, but how. What distinguishes a good trade agreement from a bad one? How do we ensure an equal playing field? If domestic manufacturers have to abide by rules protecting the environment and ensuring fair labor practices, for example, other parties to these agreements should be bound by similar constraints. All trade agreements are not equal.
And we need to recognize that there are multiple causes of our economic problems.
Rather than blaming international trade for economic woes, we need to have an honest conversation about what the United States must do to strengthen its economy. More than 20 percent of American children today live in poverty. Our educational system, once the envy of the world, now ranks in the bottom half of much of the developed world. The tax system rewards companies that exploit loopholes, infrastructure is crumbling and training programs lack the kind of apprenticeship and credentialing opportunities that Germany and other major economies offer…
Of course it is easier to score points by denouncing trade than to tackle the tough issues, but such demagogy ignores the roots of economic insecurity and inequality.
It’s handy to have a villain to identify, but the emotional satisfaction of identifying someone or some thing as the “bad guy” rarely translates into a solution to the problem at hand.
It is also a mistake to think that positions on trade policy break down along neat party lines. As we learn from Political Animal,
U.S. Conference of Mayors (which is overwhelmingly Democratic), endorsed TPP. The reason, as Ron Brownstein pointed out, is clear.
New data released May 13 by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program helps explain the mayors’ tilt toward trade…Brookings found that fully 86 percent of U.S. exports now originate from urban areas. Moreover, exports drove more than one-quarter of all metro area economic growth from 2009-2014.
I think it was H.L. Mencken who said “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”