Last Thursday, the Seattle Times featured an op-ed by yours truly, entitled “Congress must OK trade agreements to create jobs in Washington and the U.S.” It’s a great chance for WCIT fans to not only read about the importance of swift action on the three pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, but to also see my picture (and a picture of containers at the Port of Tacoma…which one is better looking?).
Of course, besides helping to promote the pending FTAs issue to Washington residents, my op-ed also came at an important time, since the Times also ran an op-ed opposed to the FTAs a few days before.
I’ve gone back and forth as to whether to respond point by point to the opposing op-ed, but I’ve decided that’s not the productive thing to do. In a debate like this, everyone has their facts and talking points, and assumes that the other side is misrepresenting. But I do think that it’s important to talk about fundamental basis of this debate.
The opposing op-ed starts with two statements, one I agree with. First: “The growing disparity between the “haves” and “have nots” is turning the American dream into a nightmare.” Totally. Income inequality (and the underlying educational inequality that causes it) is no way to grow an economy based on innovation and services. But I feel the opposite about the following statement: “It is a direct result of our failed trade policy, and it needs to stop now.”
Let’s parse this for a moment: “income inequality is caused by trade policy.” I assume that the basis for that statement is some idea that all the good paying jobs are going overseas, particularly in manufacturing. But the idea that it’s because of free trade is exactly wrong. I think that I’ve mentioned the National Association of Manufacturers study that shows that we actually have a positive trade balance in manufactured goods with countries that we have free trade agreements with…and the the loss of manufacturing is to those non-FTA countries. So, to that end, its our trade policy that IS working, and the problem is that we need to move faster to take advantage of it (hence my op-ed’s admonition that we have no time for delay).
In a difficult economy, it’s easy to scapegoat things like trade because it’s scary to see so much unemployment and lack of growth. And the sad thing is that there isn’t an easy answer/magic bullet to pull the US economy out of its doldrums. But making it easier for American companies to sell into foreign markets is a solution that can have a significant impact, particularly when domestic demand is depressed. Free trade agreements are one way to facilitate opening those markets (as well as more basic things like export promotion and technical assistance for our companies’ products and services). And those international sales are what leads to corporate growth, which leads to job creation, which helps pull people out of unemployment and low-income status…as long as they have sufficient, properly targeted education and workforce skills.
The global economy is increasingly competitive, which means we can’t just try and hold on to the jobs that used to exist. Rather, we need to adjust and give our country’s citizens the skills that they need to get the new jobs that are being created…in large part by trade.