For some time now most of the people in this country have been under economic pressure. Pay is not going up very much or at all, while living costs keep rising. One recent statistic stands out – 63 percent of Americans would have difficulty raising $500 to cover an emergency, like a sudden need for car repair so they can get to work. Around them the community’s roads and schools and services are in decline.
Most of the public can see this clearly, yet so many elites can’t see at all, and see it or not, they do little or nothing to make things better. This arrogance of our blind, well-fixed elites is helping drive the Donald Trump phenomenon.
Among the “establishment” – the people “in charge” of our “system,” including the news and opinion elites who serve as gatekeepers of information – there is willful blindness to how things have been getting worse for millions of Americans and their communities. They tell the voters they are wrong, that our trade policies are actually good for them.
The voters turn to Trump, who promises he will make it all better, that it will be beautiful.
No one else (except Sanders) is offering hope.
Magazines Are Good For Us
A perfect example of that elite blindness is last week’s Washington Post “Fact Checker” piece, “Trump’s trade rhetoric, stuck in a time warp” by Glenn Kessler.
According to Kessler, Trump “appears to have not been reading newspapers or economic magazines enough to understand that globalization has changed the face of the world economy, for good or bad. In an interconnected world, it’s no longer a zero sum game in which jobs are either parked in the United States or overseas.”
Right, magazines. That’s the ticket. Trump (and his supporters) should read more magazines that publish elites like Kessler, who can use a lot of big words like “globalization” and “interconnected” and tell laid-off workers to suck it up because it’s “no longer a zero sum game” and that’s that. Too bad for you. If they would only read more magazines they would understand why moving their jobs out of the country is good for all of us.
The Trade Deficit Is Good For Us
On Trump’s complaints about the trade deficit, Kessler writes, “Trump frequently suggests the United States is ‘losing money’ when there is a trade deficit, but that reflects a fundamental misunderstanding. Americans want to buy these products from overseas, either because of quality or price.”
This is simply an astonishing statement. In 2015, the U.S. had a goods trade deficit of $758.9 billion. We have closed so many factories here and moved the jobs there that we paid out $758.9 billion more for imports than we received from exports. That did not happen because “Americans want to buy these products from overseas”; that happened because the owners of the factories wanted to dodge American wages and environmental protection costs, and move production to places where workers are made to live in barracks, forced to stand for 10 hours, and get paid squat.
Moving Jobs Out Of The Country Is Good For Us
Then Kessler gets into the old game of saying that moving the jobs out of the country is good for us because we all get to pay lower prices.
Kessler also says all those jobs aren’t gone because we moved millions and millions of jobs out of the country so investors could pay lower wages, pollute all they want and pocket all of the savings; no, the jobs are gone because of “increased productivity.”
“The manufacturing sector has declined as a source of jobs in the United States, but again Trump would be fighting against economic shifts long in the making. American manufacturing has becomes incredibly productive, so fewer workers are needed to make the same number of goods.”
Kessler makes excuse after excuse, but think back to that $758.9 billion goods trade deficit. Imagine what would happen to the U.S. economy – and to the economic lives of all those Trump supporters – if U.S. manufacturers received $758.9 billion of orders right now. And then another $758.9 billion in orders next year. Think about the factories opening, the workers hired, the wage increases as companies fought to get enough workers, the ripple effect for the suppliers, the stores where people shop and the overall economic health of the communities where these workers live and work.
That is the effect of that trade deficit. It is $758.9 billion of orders our factories are not getting, because that is how much more we are importing than making here.
It isn’t about productivity; it’s about a $758.9 billion goods trade deficit.
NAFTA Was Good For Us
Kessler also explains to ignorant, laid-off auto workers whose jobs were moved to Mexico why this was good for them.
As a result of NAFTA, the United States, Canada and Mexico constitute an economically integrated market, especially for the auto industry. Auto parts and vehicles produced in each country freely flow over the borders, without tariffs or other restrictions, as thousands of part suppliers serve the automakers that build the vehicles. This is known as the “motor vehicle supply chain.” In fact, the prospective Ford plant that Trump complains about appears to be intended to produce cars for export from Mexico — and thus would free up production to produce more trucks in the United States.
Visit Flint, Detroit, other places where workers were laid off and factories were shut down and moved to Mexico. Look at the devastation that resulted, and tell people why this is good for them.
Meanwhile the Mexican auto-worker wage is around $26 a day. That’s $26 per day, not per hour. Workers who try to improve conditions are fired. A newspaper Kessler never reads (he reads magazines) reported last year, in “Workers may be losers in Mexico’s car boom” on the working conditions for those Mexican auto workers who have those jobs that used to be in Detroit and Flint and similar places.
“They don’t treat you with humanity. It was exploitation in general,” said Ricardo Gutierrez, 32, who had spent two years at the plant before losing his job. “But there was nothing we could do.”
[. . .] For a job with 12-hour days, often including weekends, that paid about $75 a week — with $3 of that disappearing into union dues — some decided it was not worth it.
[. . .] “They threatened me. They told me if I didn’t sign, nobody was going to give me work, because they were going to tell all the car companies bad things about me,” Rodriguez said. “Since then, I’ve been looking for work. But I can’t find anything.”
But moving jobs to Mexico was really good for all of us, you see.
Laying People Off And Rehiring At Low Wages Is Good For Us
Who doesn’t know someone whose job was shipped to China? Or who was threatened with their job being moved if they try to demand a raise? Or who is afraid their job will be shipped to China if they take a sick day or a vacation day.
The American workforce consists of:
1) People whose jobs were moved out of the country, who when took forever to find a new one (if they ever did) and who get paid much less now. In the process, maybe they lost their house or their retirement savings.
2) People who know someone this happened to.
3) People who are afraid this will happen to them. This creates a climate of fear. They don’t take vacations or sick days. They take on extra work at nights or weekends. They work “on call,” never far from the phone and checking work email into the night. They try to make everyone else look bad so they’re not first on the firing line.
4) People who don’t get raises as a result of 1, 2 or 3. Meanwhile the cost of living, rent, health insurance co-pays, etc. keeps going up and up. Pressure builds. (Trump beckons…)
5) People who are doing really well, maybe write op-eds for a living, have a great stock portfolio, don’t believe 1, 2, 3 or 4 exist at all, and believe “everyone is better off because of free trade.” (They also read magazines, apparently.)
The people in categories 1, 2, 3 and 4 are potential Trump voters. People in category 5 just don’t get it. Kessler and similar elites are in category 5.
It’s Their Own Fault Anyway
Our elite class loves to explain to laid-off workers why their woes are their own fault. They don’t have a college degree. They should have started their own companies. They’re on drugs. They don’t know how to program computers. They’re too fat or lazy or dim to quickly adapt.
Trump beckons… “There will be so many jobs.” “It will be beautiful.”
At least New York Times columnist David Brooks doesn’t try to arrogantly dismiss the concerns of Trump voters. In last week’s “No, Not Trump, Not Ever,” he writes,
Well, some respect is in order. Trump voters are a coalition of the dispossessed. They have suffered lost jobs, lost wages, lost dreams. The American system is not working for them, so naturally they are looking for something else.
Moreover, many in the media, especially me, did not understand how they would express their alienation. We expected Trump to fizzle because we were not socially intermingled with his supporters and did not listen carefully enough. For me, it’s a lesson that I have to change the way I do my job if I’m going to report accurately on this country.
Trump voters are “a coalition of the dispossessed.” Government has done nothing for them. Elites: You’re not going to stop Trump by telling his voters how wrong they are about the economy and the effects of our country’s trade policies. They’re not wrong. You are. They’re not stuck in a time warp. You are.
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.