All through the presidential campaign, the issue of free trade has been bubbling away on the national front burner.
Much of the focus and campaign rhetoric has been on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The proposed trade deal among the United States, Canada and ten nations in the Asia-Pacific region could cover 40% of America’s imports and exports.
We’re in the first year of a two-year ratification period.
Donald Trump has bashed the TPP at every turn. Hillary Clinton once praised the TPP as the “gold standard” of trade deals, but has backed off of that support, nudged that way by the staunch opposition of one-time opponent Bernie Sanders.
Economist Marina von Neumann Whitman joined us today to take a deeper look at the future of free trade policy in 2017.
Whitman told us she prefers the term “trade liberalization” over “free trade.”
“It’s not, you know, that you either have free trade or you don’t have free trade, it doesn’t work that way. You either have more restrictions on trade or you have fewer restrictions on trade,” she said.
Economists don’t agree on a lot, she told us, but they do generally agree that trade liberalization is good for the country as a whole.
“It tends to raise gross national product, encourage faster growth, encourage competition and innovation,” she said.
Large swaths of Americans have lost steady, well-paying manufacturing jobs over the years, a shift that Whitman said was caused more by the rise of automation than the liberalization of trade.
There’s been a lot of talk along the presidential campaign trail about bringing those jobs back, but according to Whitman, those are empty promises.
"That's nonsense. Those jobs aren't going to come back,” she said. “The likelihood that ‘Joe’s jobs’ will come back is just smokin’ dope.”
Rather than waiting for those jobs to return, Whitman told us America needs to do more to help its workers who have lost their jobs, whether due to trade, automation or shifts in consumer preference.
“The United States is less generous than almost any other industrialized country on what it does for workers … who either lose their jobs or take a job at lower wages,” she said.
However tomorrow’s election pans out, Whitman told us she’s “deeply concerned” about America’s economic future.
“Whichever candidate wins, the gridlock in our political situation and the fact that in all political minds at the moment, the thing at the top seems to be to do in the other side rather than thinking about what’s good for the country, I think has got to be very destructive. The kind of anti-trade and anti-immigration measures will certainly pull down our rate of growth,” she said.
“It’s very hard to be optimistic about what will happen.”
Listen to our conversation with Marina von Neumann Whitman above for more about the pros and cons of free trade, or trade liberalization, and how best to help those workers who’ve lost jobs and wages.