Don’t blame trade, says Brooks

Writing from Beijing, New York Times columnist David Brooks in his column today notes how American sentiment is increasingly against trade and globalization and points to reasons why the Dobbsians are wrong.

Brooks says that among politicians this trend is also prevalent — different from earlier periods:

Once there was a bipartisan consensus behind free trade, but that’s not true anymore, either. Even Republicans, by a two-to-one majority, believe free trade is bad for America, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll.

Once upon a time, the fact that hundreds of millions of people around the world are rising out of poverty would have been a source of pride and optimism. But if you listen to the presidential candidates, improvements in the developing world are menacing. Their speeches constitute a symphony of woe about lead-painted toys, manipulated currencies and stolen jobs.

As Brooks points out, those opposing trade are blaming all manufacturing job losses on increased trade, but that is scarcely the case, as technological changes have more to do with job losses. And trade also creates jobs:

. . . not every economic dislocation has been caused by trade and the Chinese. Between 1991 and 2007, the U.S. trade deficit exploded to $818 billion from $31 billion. Yet as Robert Samuelson has pointed out, during that time the U.S. created 28 million jobs and the unemployment rate dipped to 4.6 percent from 6.8 percent.

That’s because, as Robert Lawrence of Harvard and Martin Baily of McKinsey have calculated, 90 percent of manufacturing job losses are due to domestic forces. As companies become more technologically advanced, they shed workers (the Chinese shed 25 million manufacturing jobs between 1994 and 2004).

Meanwhile, the number of jobs actually lost to outsourcing is small, and recent reports suggest the outsourcing trend is slowing down. They are swamped by the general churn of creative destruction. Every quarter the U.S. loses somewhere around seven million jobs, and creates a bit more than seven million more. That double-edged process is the essence of a dynamic economy.