How Our Trade Policies Kill Jobs

Trade is great. We all trade. A lot of us trade labor for money that buys other things. A farmer trades corn for money that buys other things, and so on. No one is “against trade.”

But is anything called “trade” always good for all involved? Imagine you’re a farmer and you make a deal to trade corn and wheat to get money for a new tractor. So the farmer orders a new tractor, but the “trade partner” never buys any corn or wheat. After a while the “trade partner” shows up with a big bill, saying the farmer owes money for the tractor. And then the farmer finds out that the “trade partner” plans to use the proceeds from the sale of the tractor to grow their own corn.

In modern terms, we would say that the farmer was “running a trade deficit.” How much damage do you think that “trade deficit” is doing to that farmer, and the farmer’s ability to make a living in the future? How long do you think that farmer would let that “trade agreement” continue?

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How To End Unemployment

Alongside Friday’s good employment data, there is a brouhaha on the Internets over claims that the government’s employment numbers are a “big lie.” Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of the Gallup polling company penned “The Big Lie: 5.6% Unemployment,” claiming that “the media” is “cheer-leading” and the White House is “scor[ing] political points” over phony numbers that the government makes up to make things look better than they are.

In fact, the “top line” unemployment number – now 5.7 percent, representing 9 million people, does not factor in people who have given up looking, 6.8 million part-time workers who want to work full-time, 2.2 million “marginally attached” people, people who are grossly underpaid, etc. But everyone knows that, and the government reports that. The “official” number has a specific definition, the “U-6 “alternative measure of labor under-utilization” reports the more accurate 13.5 percent number. So somewhere between 15 and 20 million Americans count as un- or underemployed. But even that doesn’t count those who have given up. It’s still bad out there, but the government’s figures are not being manipulated.

Intentionally High Unemployment

I want to suggest that this high un- and underemployment is intentional. Here is why. Two things that the government could easily do right now would pretty much get rid of unemployment. But our government is blocked from doing those things by extremely wealthy people, who benefit from the low wages, and a desperate and “cowering” reserve army of unemployed status quo.

First, balancing the trade deficit would by itself bring back more than 5 million jobs. This is based only on the 3.1 million lost to the China trade deficit, 1 million lost to NAFTA and 900,000 lost to the Japan trade deficit. We also have trade deficits with Germany, South Korea, and others.

A way to visualize this is to imagine the effect on our economy of $500 billion of new orders coming in to businesses that make and do things inside the U.S. Then another $500 billion next year and every year after that. Our annual trade deficit is $500 billion. Fixing that means $500 billion of new business here, now,  and continuing every year from now on. What you are visualizing is the damage this trade regime has done to us since Wall Street and the right’s “free trade” ideology took over.

Second, we have deferred maintaining our infrastructure since the Reagan era started the cycle of tax cuts and spending cutbacks. To bring the country’s infrastructure up to standards (never mind modernizing) we would need to spend $360 billion each year for 10 years, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Infrastructure Report Card. If you conservatively estimate that each $1 billion spent on infrastructure creates 30,000 jobs, $350 billion translates to 350×30,000 = 10.5 million jobs.

So that’s conservatively 15.5 million jobs if we just go back to doing what the country did before the Reagan era. (This gives you a hint at the damage Reagan’s “trickle down” economics, and “free trade” market ideology have done. Look around. The extreme inequality that resulted tells you why it was done.)

Balance trade and fix up our aging infrastructure means at least 15.5 million jobs. (Think about what that would mean for wages, too.)

But That’s Just Catch-Up

But those things are just playing catch-up. It comes close to giving jobs to the unemployed, part-time for economic reasons and “marginally attached” workers. It doesn’t even start to dig into the people who have given up and left the labor market.

We got here by cutting taxes for the rich, gutting government, deferring maintenance, a and letting a few billionaires harvest our public wealth through privatization, etc. We’ll get out of it by fixing the trade deficit, repairing our infrastructure, undoing policy mistakes that have continued since the Reagan era, and ending “trickle down” tax cuts.

How do we take this a step further? The following things would employ tons of people and bring a long-term economic return far above any “cost.”

First, retrofit buildings and homes to be energy-efficient. Start with the basics: plug leaks and drafts, paint roofs white. These simple things could employ tons of people who we call “low skilled.” Take it a step further, and install energy-efficient windows, insulation, modern heating and cooling systems, solar on the roofs, etc. — all made in America, of course — and we will employ millions more. The energy payoff would be enormous, and we would go into the future with a much more efficient economy.

Next, engage in 21st century infrastructure projects like high-speed rail across the country and into Canada and Mexico — just like China is already doing. (See: “New Silk Road.“) We’ll create jobs, and end up with a massively more efficient, competitive economy. Then, modernize our power grid and install wind turbines across the plains states. Again, we end up with a massively more efficient, competitive economy. Requiring American-made supplies boosts the return to our economy.

What about building out national, high-speed, fiber internet? Imagine the innovation that would result.

There is so much we could do to first bring about full employment, and then move our economy into the 21st century. But we are held back by this weird Reagan/Wall Street/conservative ideology that tells us not to believe that We the People deserve a government that spends to make our lives better. That spending boosts us up now, makes our lives better, and more than pays for itself later. But we are kept from dreaming and doing because that return on our investment would go to us, instead of into the pockets of a few billionaires.


This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Rep. Alan Grayson Explains Trade Deficit Harm

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) is trying to get people talking about the trade deficit and the harm it is doing our wages, our jobs and our potential for mutual prosperity. He’s right to do this.

Last week Grayson spoke at a press conference with several other House Democrats and representatives from a broad coalition of organizations, expressing opposition to “Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority. Fast Track is a weird process whereby Congress essentially approves of trade deals before even reading them. I wrote about this press conference in “House Members, Activist Leaders Form United Front Against Trade Scheme.”

Now Grayson is emailing his short talk out to his list. This is Grayson’s letter, which repeats what he said at the press conference:

Trade is a simple concept. You sell me yours, and I’ll sell you mine.

That’s not what’s happening.

What’s happening is that day after day, month after month, and year after year, Americans are buying goods and services manufactured by foreigners, and those foreigners are not buying goods and services manufactured by Americans. We are creating millions — no — tens of millions of jobs in other countries with our purchasing power, and we are losing tens of millions of jobs in our country, because foreigners are not buying our goods and services.

What are they doing? They’re buying our assets.

So we lose twice. We lose the jobs, and we are driven deeper and deeper into national debt – and, ultimately, national bankruptcy. That is the end game.

This is not free trade; it’s fake trade. We have fake trade.

That’s why before NAFTA was enacted and went into effect, this country never had a trade deficit as much as $140 billion a year, while every single year since then — for 20 years now — we have had a trade deficit of over $140 billion a year.

We have had a[n average annual] trade deficit of half a billion dollars now, for the past 14 years.

Look back all across history. Look all across Planet Earth. You will see that the 14 largest trade deficits in the history of mankind are – all [of them] — the American trade deficits for the last 14 years.

(I cannot rule out the possibility that somewhere on Alpha Centauri there might be a country that has a larger trade deficit. But here on Planet Earth, no.)

Listen, we are in a deep, deep hole, thanks to fake trade. Thanks to fake trade, right now, 1/7th of all the assets in this country — every business, every plot of land, every car – 1/7th of all the assets in the country are now owned by foreigners. And ultimately, if we keep going the way we’re going, they all will be.

That’s why we have the most unequal distribution of income [among all industrial nations] in our country, [and] the most unequal distribution of wealth in our history.

We’re in a deep, deep hole. And there’s a simple rule about holes: When you’re in a hole, stop digging. Stop digging!

So I’m calling upon our leaders. I’m calling upon the American people. Let’s stop digging.

Let’s not only have a trade policy. For once, let’s also have a trade deficit policy.

Let’s deal with the reality that has robbed the American Middle Class now for decades. Let’s address it, and let’s defeat it. That’s what I’m calling [for], right now.

Let’s stop digging deeper. Let’s raise ourselves up, let’s climb out of this hole, and rebuild the American Middle Class. Thank you very much.


Rep. Alan Grayson

Grayson’s email includes this chart showing the history of how our enormous, humongous trade deficit has grown and grown:

This is a big deal, because Grayson reaches a lot of people, and information spreads. So, maybe Grayson’s efforts will help drive awareness of the the trade deficit problem.

What Is The Trade Deficit?

The trade deficit is a direct measure of how much more our country buys from other countries than it sells to other countries. It also directly measures dollars and jobs literally drained from our economy. The trade deficit — contrasted with the budget deficit which we largely owe each other inside the country — really is like a family or business budget and we are spending more than we are taking in. In fact, we have been spending more than we are taking in for a long time.

Last month our trade deficit was $39 billion. That is $39 billion worth of business that went to non-US factories and other providers representing $39 billion worth of jobs and store purchases and the jobs and taxable revenue all of that represents. And that was in just one month.

Meanwhile China reported that their trade surplus has increased by almost 50%. “China 2014 trade surplus rockets to record high”:

China’s trade surplus soared by almost half last year to a record $382 billion, the government announced Tuesday…

Exports increased 6.1 percent to $2.34 trillion in 2014, while imports rose 0.4 percent to $1.96 trillion, the General Administration of Customs said on its website.

That translated into a trade surplus of $382.46 billion, the highest ever and a 47.2 percent increase on 2013.

That trade surplus represents a direct transfer of $382 billion of wealth into China from other countries — largely our own — while our trade deficit represents a direct transfer of wealth out of our own country, mostly to China.

Grayson’s little chart shows how long our trade deficit has been draining jobs, factories, and prosperity from our country. Nothing like this has ever occurred before in human history. If you look at the effect on the country you can trade the years of factories closings and community devastation in much of the country to the lines on this chart. You can trace the “hollowing out’ of America’s middle class by following the lines on this chart.

Budget Deficit Or Trade Deficit — Which Matters More?

You have heard a LOT about the budget deficit over the years. Conservatives and Wall Street have put a lot into making people scared about the budget deficit. This scare machine has been effective and as a result most people don’t even know that the budget deficit is way down from where Bush left it. (“By 73 percent to 21 percent, the public says the federal budget deficit has gotten bigger during the Obama presidency.”)

The reason conservatives and Wall Street are investing so much in budget-deficit propaganda is that if people are fearful about the budget deficit they demand certain policies that are, to say the least, a lot more beneficial to conservatives and Wall Street than to regular, working people. These include allowing cuts to the federal budget (and its oversight of and push-back against the giant corporations) that would be unthinkable without budget deficit fear stampeding the public. (The budget deficit was caused intentionally to force these results.)

However, if people come to understand and worry about the very real trade deficit they will demand policies that are very good for regular, working people as well as for “Main Street” businesses that make or do things in America. Policies that balance trade would increase jobs and wages, general prosperity and tax revenue.

These policies to help balance trade include outlawing currency manipulation which makes foreign-made goods less expensive relative to American-made goods, enforcing existing trade rules and finally renegotiating the trade deals that have caused our massive trade deficits (China, in particular).


This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Reagan Set Up The Death Of The Middle Class, But China Was The Clincher

Campaign for America’s Future’s 2010 Reagan Revolution Home To Roost series, especially the post Reagan Revolution Home To Roost — In Charts described the beginning of the great decoupling of the American economy from the middle class.

The summary:

Conservative policies transformed the United States from the largest creditor nation to the largest debtor nation in just a few years, and it has only gotten worse since then.

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Austerity Has Made Europe’s Depression Longer Than in ’30s

Europe’s economic depression has now lasted longer than the Great Depression of the 1930s. Meanwhile, America’s “Great Recession” also drags on thanks to cutbacks in government spending since the stimulus.

Europe’s leaders somehow were convinced that austerity – “deficit reduction” through cutbacks in government – would somehow lead them out of their economic doldrums. They believed that taking money out of the economy would help the economy. The result has been terrible. The Washington Post’s Wonkblog calls Europe’s austerity-lengthened depression “one of the biggest catastrophes in economic history.”

To top it off, Europe’s governments are learning that cutting back on spending not only worsens the economic picture, causing terrible unemployment, poverty and human misery, but the worsened economic picture means less revenue coming in, thereby increasing deficits instead of lowering deficits. In other words, austerity cutbacks to fight deficits have instead made deficits worse and hurt people.

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Three Charts to Email to Your Right-Wing Brother-In-Law — Updated

Problem: Your right-wing brother-in-law is plugged into the FOX-Limbaugh lie machine, and keeps sending you emails about “Obama spending” and “Obama deficits” and how the “stimulus” just made things worse.

Solution: Here are three “reality-based” charts to send to him. These charts show what actually happened.



Government spending increased dramatically under President Bush. It has not increased much under President Obama. This is just a fact.



Note that this chart starts with Clinton’s last budget year for comparison.

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Very Important (Short) Video For Understanding How Money Works

This is the great Richard Eskow interviewing economist Stephanie Kelton for his radio/internet/video/podcast show The Zero Hour. (Click here for The Zero Hour’s YouTube channel.)

This video helps you understand that the country is not “broke” but has PLENTY of money to hire people, fix infrastructure, etc., just like how we had enough money for two wars and then trillions to bail out the banks. PS It’s called “Modern Monetary Theory.”

From her website: Stephanie Kelton, Ph.D. is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is also Editor-in-Chief of the top-ranked blog New Economic Perspectives and a member of the TopWonks network of the nation’s best thinkers. Her book, The State, The Market and The Euro (2001) predicted the debt crisis in the Eurozone, and her subsequent work correctly predicted that: (1) Quantitative Easing (QE) wouldn’t lead to high inflation; (2) government deficits wouldn’t cause a spike in U.S. interest rates; (3) the S&P downgrade wouldn’t cause investors to flee Treasuries; (4) the U.S. would not experience a European-style debt crisis.

If you want more, Stephanie Kelton has also participated in a number of Virtually Speaking episodes.

Are ‘Globalization’s’ Costs Inevitable?

You hear often that we “live in a global world now.” You hear that “globalization” means we have to drop our wages and standards to match those in impoverished, Third-World countries. You hear that the “cost” of controlling pollution makes us uncompetitive in the world. Etc. Etc. Etc. It’s inevitable – a force of nature – so don’t fight it, they say. This is endlessly repeated as if we weren’t in a “global” world when the first camel crossed a border or the first sailing ship crossed a sea. But since that first camel countries have enacted policies to make things better for their people.

Sunday’s New York Times published an op-ed, “The Myth of Industrial Rebound,” by Steven Rattner, one more wealthy Wall Street executive who revolved through the door from being an Obama administration official after he revolved through the door from being a Wall Street executive. In his op-ed Rattner accurately describes many of our economy’s problems but concludes that we should let these things just happen to us because, “In a flattened world, there will always be another China.”

Rattner points out that many of the new manufacturing jobs are low-wage. “This disturbing trend is particularly pronounced in the automobile industry. When Volkswagen opened a plant in Chattanooga … the beginning wage for assembly line workers was $14.50 per hour, about half of what traditional, unionized workers employed by General Motors or Ford received.” Meanwhile, “in Germany, the average autoworker earns $67 per hour. … Volkswagen has moved production from a high-wage country (Germany) to a low-wage country (the United States).”

Rattner is correct that falling wages are slowing economic recovery. “These dispiriting wage trends are a central reason for the slow economic recovery; without sustained income growth, consumers can’t spend.”

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President Obama Should Raise Minimum Wage For Federal Contract Workers

Guess who is one of the biggest employers of minimum-wage employees? Your own federal government. After years of “privatization” and outsourcing, the government now contracts out a lot of work to companies that pay really, really low wages for jobs that when they were “government jobs” used to provide good pay and benefits. And this means that a lot of people – between 1 and 2 million – have to live in poverty. Now there are reports that President Obama is considering doing something about that.

An August, 2013 New York Times editorial, “The Government as a Low-Wage Employer,” explained the problem:

Recent studies have shown how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal contracts, grants, loans, concessions and property leases currently flow to companies that pay low wages and provide few if any benefits, even as executive pay among federal contractors has risen. In effect, tax dollars are being used to fuel the low-wage economy and, in the process, worsen inequality.

The links in that paragraph point to a National Employment Law Project (NELP) report, “Taking the Low Road: How the Federal Government Promotes Poverty-Wage Jobs Through its Contracting Practices, A Survey of Workers and Their Stories” and Demos study, “Underwriting Bad Jobs: How Our Tax Dollars Are Funding Low-Wage Work and Fueling Inequality.”

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GOP Economic Sabotage Continues With Filibuster of Jobless Benefits

Republicans are engaged in yet more hostage-taking obstruction. (Whatever gave them the idea that hostage-taking can work?) They are engaged in a filibuster of the effort to extend unemployment insurance, using it as a hostage to try to get even more cuts to the things government does to make our lives better. Their “pay-for” demand is really a demand for Democrats to agree to even more economic sabotage.

Senate Republicans Monday continued to fight Democratic efforts to pass an extension of federal unemployment insurance benefits for people who have been out of work longer than 26 weeks. Traditionally our government has provided this assistance to unemployed workers at times of high unemployment. This is an “automatic stabilizer,” meaning that this assistance helps stop the downward spirals that occur when business hit recession. Unemployed workers aren’t forced to pull back from paying mortgages or rent, or buying food and other basic needs, which then causes even more unemployment.

Many feel this economic stabilization effect is the reason Republican oppose the extension. They suspect Republicans want the loss of this assistance to cause more layoffs, foreclosures and economic hardship. This way the economy looks worse as the 2014 elections approach, and voters will turn on what they perceive as the “party in charge” – namely the Democrats.

By requiring “pay-fors” – cuts somewhere else – in exchange for allowing this assistance to the unemployed, they are removing the economic boost that the program provides, causing damage to the economy. In other words: they are engaged in economic sabotage.

One such proposal from Republicans is to stop working people with disabilities from claiming both Social Security Disability Insurance and federal unemployment benefits. Cutting this really means preventing people with disabilities from taking the risk of going out and working to see if they can get off of disability. Michael Hiltzik writes about this at the Los Angeles Times in “An awful idea: Hammer the disabled to pay for unemployment benefits”:

It uniquely burdens the disabled among all workers, and it sets a terrible precedent of raiding Social Security to pay for other social programs.

… The idea that disabled persons are “double-dipping” by collecting wages or other compensation while also getting a disability check is enshrined in conservative attacks on disability. But it’s untrue. The Social Security disability program is designed as a bridge to full employment. Its benefits aren’t intended as a substitute for wages, but a supplement.

Michael Tomasky writes about the hostage-taking involved here in “The Fight Over Unemployment Benefits Underscores the Right’s Extremism” at The Daily Beast:

Republicans are insisting on cuts from elsewhere in the federal budget to pay for the benefits’ $6.4 billion cost. And Democrats are talking with them. But there’s no progress yet. In fact, it seems today that even the six Republicans who voted in the Senate last week to allow debate to proceed would not vote to extend the benefits just yet.

[. . .] if Democrats win, great. But it looks like they’ll only win by agreeing to the pay-for demand, which means that there’ll be new demands next time. There’s no end to how far right these people will go.

Richard Eskow (who really should have a column in the New York Times) writes about the economic sabotage of “pay for” in “No, Congress, You Shouldn’t “Pay For” Extending Unemployment Insurance”:

The simple truth is, Democrats are still being outmaneuvered by Republicans on economic policy. They’re letting the GOP call the shots, rhetorically, even though Republicans lost two out of three seats of federal government (the Senate and White House). They even lost the total popular vote for the House of Representatives.

… Here’s a better idea: Don’t try to pay for extended unemployment benefits. Don’t boast, as Reid did last week, that the extension is “entirely paid for.” Sure, Democrats will eventually need to make a deal – if they can – in order to extend unemployment insurance benefits. But why aren’t they first making the case against “paying for” those benefits on the Republicans’ terms?

Why aren’t Democrats instead speaking up against the “pay for” logic that gives a free pass to the wealthy and corporations – especially when the total cost is a blip, a rounding error, on a $1 trillion 2014 federal budget?

Economically, “pay for” is a Catch-22: It means every job-creating proposal must be offset with job-killing cuts elsewhere.

5 Reasons To Extend Unemployment Insurance

The AFL-CIO Now blog offers “5 Reasons Congress Must Extend Unemployment Insurance.” (Click through for details, charts and links.)

1. The long-term unemployment rate is higher than ever before.
2. The typical unemployed worker has been out of work longer than ever before.
3. More unemployed workers are running out of benefits than ever before.
4. The unemployment rate remains unacceptably high.
5. There are still three job seekers for every job opening.

Call To Action

The Coalition on Human Needs wants us to “tell your senators to renew federal unemployment insurance now, before the next recess, and don’t tie renewal to harmful amendments like denying the Child Tax Credit to low-income immigrant families or denying aid to unemployed workers with disabilities.”

If you haven’t called your senators yet (or even if you have!) please call 1-877-267-2485 (Toll Free). (Thanks to AFSCME for making this toll-free number available.)


This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary