Vail Daily column: Beware Trump’s snake oil
September 21, 2016
The '50s were a great time for America. After a devastating global war we emerged largely unscathed. While everyone else was digging out from the rubble, American manufacturing quickly transitioned from bombers and tanks to Studebakers, Maytags and RCAs. Wages rose for many Americans, a good thing at the time but an economic time bomb that would detonate decades later.
By the '70s something happened that should have surprised no one — the other industrial countries recovered and started to give us some real manufacturing competition. In an unhappy coincidence, OPEC began to flex its muscle and control the output and price of oil. The Japanese were ready with smaller, fuel-efficient cars. Japan and other countries did not only compete on price, but also on quality. American auto manufacturing was unprepared. Furthermore, Nixon and Kissinger woke the sleeping giant and Deng Xiaoping opened China's vast, cheap labor pool to the world.
One of the biggest lies of this interminable presidential campaign is that the government is responsible for offshoring American jobs. Trump claims, "Our politicians have aggressively pursued a policy of globalization, moving our jobs, our wealth and our factories to Mexico and overseas." (Says the guy who manufactures exclusively overseas.) Employment in manufacturing has been declining in the U.S. and most developed countries for the last half century. Were international trade agreements to blame? This decline was well underway more than a decade before NAFTA (1994) and two decades before China joined the World Trade Organization (2001). Bruce Springsteen immortalized in song the decline of U.S. manufacturing jobs when he sang, "Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain't coming back to your hometown." That was in 1984.
For Americans struggling with stagnant wages and uncertainty about how to navigate an evolving economy, Trump gives them someone to blame — the government. How convenient, bearing in mind he and business leaders like him are actually to blame. Consider that most of Trump's textile products such as suits, ties and hats are made in Bangladesh and China. According to CNN Money, 76 percent of Ivanka Trump's products are made overseas. Low cost overseas workers mean more profit in Trump's pocket. Trump displayed little concern for American workers until he decided to run for president.
I have firsthand experience with cheap, overseas labor. Once upon a time I was a middle-class American living in Shanghai with two housekeepers, a driver, and a masseuse that made house calls. I lived the Trump-lite life because Chinese housekeepers make in a month what an American housecleaner makes in about three days. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that the average manufacturing employee in India and China in 2009 was compensated at about 5 percent of the amount earned by her U.S. counterpart. Those are staggeringly low wages. You can have it cheap, or you can have it made in America, but you cannot have both.
To be fair, labor costs are not the only reason manufacturing jobs relocate overseas. OSHA, environmental regulations and automation all factor in domestic manufacturing decline, which is why it will be difficult for anyone to bring manufacturing jobs back to America in significant numbers. Critics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership focus on the prospect of lost jobs. I wonder if those same critics would be willing to curtail the eco-friendly regulations that protect the environment but also make it more costly to manufacture in America? Before you answer that, go breath Beijing's air for a week.
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Trump does not acknowledge the biggest winners of international trade agreements — consumers. You and me. Thanks to increased trade, consumers have benefited from the abundance, quality, variety and price of virtually all products. Consumers, therefore, will be the first losers if Trump's proposed economic policies are enacted because prices will rise and availability will be reduced. The next victims will be American workers. A report by Moody's Analytics concludes, "Donald Trump's economic proposals … could produce a prolonged recession and heavy job losses that would fall hardest on low- and middle-income workers."
Trump's lies on practically every issue are of gargantuan proportions. (Once a prominent birther, he now claims it was all Hillary's idea.) But his lies about trade and the economy will have a devastating impact on the most vulnerable people. We have barely recovered from the economic shocks of eight years ago. Let's not jeopardize our forward momentum by squandering it on a carnival barker propagating fear and peddling Trump brand snake oil as the remedy.
Claire Noble can be found online at http://www.clairenoble.org and "Claire Noble Writer" on Facebook.
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