Elites Discover So-Called “Free-Trade” Is Killing Economy, Middle Class

The New York Times editorial board finally gets it right about trade in its Sunday editorial, “This Time, Get Global Trade Right.” Some excerpts:

Many Americans have watched their neighbors lose good-paying jobs as their employers sent their livelihoods to China. Over the last 20 years, the United States has lost nearly five million manufacturing jobs.

People in the Midwest, the “rust belt” and elsewhere noticed this a long time ago as people were laid off, “the plant” closed, the downtowns slowly boarded up and the rest of us felt pressure on wages and working hours. How many towns — entire regions of the country — are like this now? Have you even seen Detroit?

“This page has long argued that removing barriers to trade benefits the economy and consumers, and some of those gains can be used to help the minority of people who lose their jobs because of increased imports,” the editors write. “But those gains have not been as widespread as we hoped, and they have not been adequate to assist those who were harmed.”

So acknowledging that our trade deals have hurt the country, they say maybe we could try to do it right with coming agreements. They write:

If done right, these agreements could improve the ground rules of global trade, as even critics of Nafta like Representative Sander Levin, Democrat of Michigan, have argued. They could reduce abuses like sweatshop labor, currency manipulation and the senseless destruction of forests. They could weaken protectionism against American goods and services in countries like Japan, which have sheltered such industries as agriculture and automobiles.

They write that one problem is that these agreements are negotiated of, by and for the giant corporations:

One of the biggest fears of lawmakers and public interest groups is that only a few insiders know what is in these trade agreements, particularly the Pacific pact.

The Obama administration has revealed so few details about the negotiations, even to members of Congress and their staffs, that it is impossible to fully analyze the Pacific partnership. Negotiators have argued that it’s impossible to conduct trade talks in public because opponents to the deal would try to derail them.

But the administration’s rationale for secrecy seems to apply only to the public. Big corporations are playing an active role in shaping the American position because they are on industry advisory committees to the United States trade representative, Michael Froman. By contrast, public interest groups have seats on only a handful of committees that negotiators do not consult closely.

The current trade-negotiation process is a system designed to rig the game for the giant multinationals against everyone else:

That lopsided influence is dangerous, because companies are using trade agreements to get special benefits that they would find much more difficult to get through the standard legislative process. For example, draft chapters from the Pacific agreement that have been leaked in recent months reveal that most countries involved in the talks, except the United States, do not want the agreement to include enforceable environmental standards. Business interests in the United States, which would benefit from weaker rules by placing their operations in countries with lower protections, have aligned themselves with the position of foreign governments. Another chapter, on intellectual property, is said to contain language favorable to the pharmaceutical industry that could make it harder for poor people in countries like Peru to get generic medicines.

These trade agreements place corporate rights over national sovereignty:

Another big issue is whether these trade agreements will give investors unnecessary power to sue foreign governments over policies they dislike, including health and environmental regulations. Philip Morris, for example, is trying to overturn Australian rules that require cigarette packs to be sold only in plain packaging. If these treaties are written too loosely, big banks could use them to challenge new financial regulations or, perhaps, block European lawmakers from enacting a financial-transaction tax.

And they’re asking, like the rest of us are asking, why in the world won’t they do something about currency?

It’s easy to point the finger at Nafta and other trade agreements for job losses, but there is a far bigger culprit: currency manipulation. A 2012 paper from the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that the American trade deficit has increased by up to $500 billion a year and the country has lost up to five million jobs because China, South Korea, Malaysia and other countries have boosted their exports by suppressing the value of their currency.

What So-Called “Free Trade” Agreements Did To The Economy

A trade deficit means that we buy more from the rest of the world than we sell to it. This means that jobs making and doing things here migrate to there. Before the mid-70s the United States ran generally balanced trade, with a bias toward surplus. Look at this chart to see what happened, beginning in the ’80s, and then … wham.

Now we have an enormous, humongous, ongoing trade deficit that over the years has added up to trillions and trillions of dollars drained from our economy. We have lost millions and millions of jobs as tens of thousands of factories closed. We have lost entire industries. We are losing our entire middle class to the resulting wage stagnation and inequality.

Here is what happened when the trade deficit took off. First, look at this chart of the “decoupling” of wages with productivity. In other words, as productivity goes up, what happens to the share of those gains that go to labor:

In case you don’t see the correlation, this chart shows both the trade deficit and labor’s share of the benefits of our economy:

Most people understand the damage that so-called “free trade” has done to the economy, much of our country and the middle class. Millions of people have outright lost their jobs because of corporate CEOs who conclude, “It’s cheaper to manufacture where they pay 50 cents an hour and let us pollute all we want.”

Many others have felt the resulting job fear: “If I so much as hint that I want a raise or weekends off they’ll move my job to China, too.” Entire regions have lost their economic base as factories and entire industries closed and moved.

But We Globalized And Expanded Trade

The basic pro-free-trade argument is that all trade is good and these agreements increase trade. NAFTA negotiator Carla Hills, defending NAFTA, says, “our trade with Mexico and Canada has soared 400 percent, and our investment is up fivefold.”

Of course, this is like proudly telling people that the Broncos scored 8 points in the 2014 Super Bowl*. (Hint: the Seahawks scored 43 points.)

Yes, trade is up and exports are up, but imports are up even more, which costs us jobs, factories and industries. What happened was NAFTA “expanded” trade against American workers and our economy, costing about a million jobs and increasing our trade deficit 480 percent. And don’t even ask what happened with our China trade. (Hint: our 2013 trade deficit with China was 318.4 billion dollars.)

How Would The N.Y. Times Fix Trade?

The Times editorial says we should “press countries to stop manipulating their currencies” and “the president also needs to make clear to America’s trading partners that they need to adhere to enforceable labor and environmental regulations.”

OK, but why would the giant multinationals participate? The point of the free-trade regime up to now has been to accomplish the opposite: to free the giants from the pesky laws and regulations imposed by governments, especially from labor and environmental regulations. The negotiations have been a rigged game designed to transfer the wealth of entire nations to a few billionaires (including Chinese billionaires) and giant, multinational corporations. It worked.

Meanwhile … In The L.A. Times

Meanwhile in the Los Angeles Times, representatives George Miller (D-Calif.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) have written an op-ed, “Free trade on steroids: The threat of the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” talk about NAFTA as a “model for additional agreements, and its deeply flawed approach has resulted in the outsourcing of jobs, downward pressure on wages and a meteoric rise in income inequality,” and ask us not to “blindly endorse any more unfair NAFTA-style trade agreements, negotiated behind closed doors, that threaten to sell out American workers, offshore our manufacturing sector and accelerate the downward spiral of wages and benefits.”

In 1993, before NAFTA, the U.S. had a $2.5-billion trade surplus with Mexico and a $29-billion deficit with Canada. By 2012, that had exploded into a combined NAFTA trade deficit of $181 billion. Since NAFTA, more than 845,000 U.S. workers in the manufacturing sector — and this is likely an undercount — have been certified under just one narrow program for trade adjustment assistance. They qualified because they lost their jobs due to increased imports from Canada and Mexico, or the relocation of factories to those nations.

The recent Korea free trade agreement followed the NAFTA model and the results have already proven terrible for American workers:

Obama said it would support “70,000 American jobs from increased goods exports alone.” In reality, U.S. monthly exports to South Korea fell 11% in the pact’s first two years, imports rose and the U.S. trade deficit exploded by 47%. This led to a net loss of tens of thousands of U.S. jobs in this pact’s first two years.

They conclude:

There are many things we can do to enhance our competitiveness with China and in the global economy.

We can invest in our own infrastructure, manufacturing and job training. We can work harder to address issues like currency manipulation, unfair subsidies for state-owned enterprises in other nations and global labor protections. We can enter deals that increase U.S. exports while doing right by our workers and our priorities, and we can address the real foreign policy challenges in Asia with appropriate policies instead of through a commercial agreement that could weaken the United States and its allies.

What we should not do is blindly endorse any more unfair NAFTA-style trade agreements, negotiated behind closed doors, that threaten to sell out American workers, offshore our manufacturing sector and accelerate the downward spiral of wages and benefits.

No New Trade Agreements, Instead Fix The Ones We Have

Of course, as we reach consensus that we got trade wrong, and realize how these “NAFTA-style” agreements have done so much damage to our economy and middle class, doesn’t this mean it is time to back up and renegotiate NAFTA and others?

*P.S. The 2014 Super Bowl started at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, February 2, 2014.

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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

CEO Pay Soars As Worker Pay Stagnates

How’s your job going – if you even have one? The odds are very, very high that you haven’t seen a raise in a long time. Or maybe you were laid off and found a new job at half your old pay. They say this is the “new normal.”

Meanwhile, CEO pay just keeps climbing and climbing and climbing (and climbing and climbing and climbing and climbing and climbing and climbing). This inequality is destabilizing our economy.

Soaring CEO Pay

The AFL-CIO has released this year’s 2014 Executive PayWatch at www.PayWatch.org, a “comprehensive searchable online database tracking the excessive pay of CEOs of the nation’s largest companies.”

PayWatch.org offers workers the unique ability to compare their own pay to the pay of top executives. According to Executive PayWatch data, U.S. CEOs pocketed, on average, $11.7 million in 2013, compared to the average worker who earned $35,293. That means CEOs were paid 331 times that of the average worker. (CEO pay was 774 times the minimum wage.)

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No Fast Track To TPP: Fix NAFTA First

The big corporations and the Obama administration are trying to push through a giant new trade treaty that gives corporations even more power, and which will send even more jobs, factories, industries and money out of the country. This is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and they are pushing something called “fast track” in Congress to help push it through.

We have to stop this, and we should take the momentum we have generated in our push-back on this to demand Congress and President Obama instead fix NAFTA first. Then fix all of our trade relationships to help working people on all sides of our borders.

TPP, Fast Track And NAFTA

There has been a lot of news about the upcoming TPP trade agreement. The agreement is being negotiated in extreme secrecy in a corporate-dominated process that appears to be leading to an agreement that would give corporations even more power than they already have. Now there is a push to pass a process called fast track through Congress in order to enable the large corporations to strong-arm TPP into law mobilized organizations around the country to sound the alarm.

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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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Best Walmart Video

Show this one at Thanksgiving!!

See What’s Walmart’s Business Secret? at the AFL-CIO blog.

The six Walton heirs own about 50% of the company and have a combined wealth of $142 billion. This means they have more wealth than 42% of all Americans combined.

Connect the dots: This stock is worth so much partly because taxpayers subsidize Walmart’s business practices. Walmart’s wages are so low that their employees qualify for various government assistance programs, like Medicaid and Food Stamps. So we are subsidizing the pay of Walmart’s employees, which increases this $144 billion fortune.

Walmart also takes advantage of trade policies that force American wages down. We let in goods made in non-democracies where people don’t have a say, so their wages are low, and the environment is not protected. The company also takes advantage of the low minimum wage. (40% of Americans now make less than the 1968 minimum wage, had it kept pace with productivity.)

The Walmart heirs were one of 18 families that funded a successful 10-year campaign to get rid of inheritance taxes. Public Citizen documented how these families used front groups to push the “death tax” astroturf campaign to convince Americans they average people were affected by this tax when only one-fourth of one percent of Americans were affected in 2006.

This $144 billion fortune influences our politicians to make sure this rigged system stays the way it is. The result is that Americans are paid less and less, and a very few people pocket the difference.

See previous CAF posts on Walmart.

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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

No One Should Be Paid?

How often do you hear the argument that people in unions shouldn’t ask for reasonable pay and benefits because no one else gets reasonable pay and benefits anymore?

And people in unions certainly shouldn’t ask for pensions, because no one gets pensions anymore…

After Reagan came in they broke the unions, and by-and-large working people have not gotten a raise since — except the few who still have a union.

Isn’t the lesson to learn from this that people are much better off when they are in a strong union — not that people should hate unions? Duh?

Happy Labor Day weekend. Remember that the only reason you have Labor Day off is because of unio ns fighting to get that.

And the only reason you only have to work 8 hours a day, get a weekend off, a minimum wage (as low as it is now) etc. is because of unions.

Austerity Is Dead – So Can We Fix The Infrastructure NOW?

You might have heard that “austerity is dead.” You’ll certainly be hearing it, and with good reason: the U.S. deficit is down more than 50 percent from what President Bush left behind, projections of the rise in medical costs that drove future deficits are way down, the “intellectual foundation” that justified the push for cutting government has collapsed (as if it ever existed), and the European experiment has shown that budget cuts really just make things worse – much, much worse – and cause misery and suffering to boot. Meanwhile we have two real problems to worry about: unemployment and crumbling infrastructure. So can we hire people to fix the infrastructure now?

Economists Had Learned How To Revive A Falling Economy

Before the financial collapse economists had nailed down the way to get out of an economic crisis: Government has to spend to pick up the drop in demand caused by businesses and consumers cutting back. This investment into the economy causes businesses to hire again, which helps people to be able to spend again, and after things recover the resulting growth pays off that investment.

The Great Depression in particular had taught us that a downward spiral could develop in which a drop in demand caused businesses to cut back, lay people off and/or cut wages, and of course this caused people to have to cut back, which meant demand dropped even more so businesses laid off more people, so demand dropped more, etc.

The FDR administration tried various things to stop this spiral and found that programs that injected money into the economy, such as unemployment benefits and other assistance, direct hiring, investments in infrastructure, etc., could turn things around. And then after things turned around we had all that new, modern infrastructure driving continuing economic growth!

We also learned the hard way. In 1937 the government cut back too soon, and the economy sank into recession again. Then World War II came along, the government spent massively, and the economy grew so much that the ratio of debt to the size of the economy shrank dramatically. We had it figured out.

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Just Stop It: This Is NOT A Good Economy. We Can Fix It.

Recent stories appearing in “mainstream” opinion-leader outlets would have you think that things with the economy are going great – if you didn’t know better (and they don’t). The thing is that outside of the geographic areas and cultural circles these opinion leaders inhabit, everyone knows better. Especially “Old Economy Steven.”

better than his kids

The old economy collapsed because it wasn’t sustainable, and to put that another way, “unsustainable” means it couldn’t be sustained. And it wasn’t. It didn’t work then for 99 percent of us and it won’t work now. We can’t go back to that.

“Good News”

The economy is slowly improving. Car sales are rising, housing has “bottomed” and started back up (and is in absolute bubble-mode again in some areas), and we’re actually seeing about as many new jobs as new people entering the economy! But that’s it. And this has taken how many years?

These small gains are enough for our media opinion-elite to declare good times are rolling. All around us we are hearing that we are out of the woods. For example, at The Washington Post Neil Irwin and Ylan Q. Mui wrote Tuesday that the sequester’s austerity (which has only partially kicked in so far) hasn’t really held back the booming economy. In “The economy is holding up surprisingly well in a year of austerity,”

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Another Bridge Falls — Fixing Infrastructure Fixes Jobs And Deficits

Another aging highway bridge fell the other day, cars and people in the water… This problem was well-known and urgent years ago! But Republicans block it, saying fixing our infrastructure is “more government spending.” Fixing our infrastructure is also jobs and economic growth. And after you fix or build a bridge you have the bridge.

In Seattle another aging bridge has fallen. The American Society of Civil Engineers report America’s 2013 Infrastructure Report Card gives us a D+ and says we are $3.6 trillion behind in infrastructure maintenance. And this is just to catch up, not get ahead.

This work has to be done at some point but today we have a 10 million person employment gap. And today we can get the money to do this at close to zero percent. We have the double need — it needs doing and we need jobs — and we can get the money almost free.

The hiring and purchase of American-made materials involved in fixing the infrastructure would bring millions of jobs. It would boost the economy, increase the tax revenue and decrease safety-net spending.

Fix Or Build A Bridge: You Have The Bridge

And did I mention that when we fix or build a bridge we have the bridge? After we have updated the roads, bridges, electrical systems, dams, airports and everything else that means our economy is much more competitive and efficient. So the benefits continue. Compare that to the supposed benefits of tax cuts. After the tax cuts you are left with the debt they cause and less revenue with which to pay it off.

This is a trifecta of the urgent need to fix our aging infrastructure matched with all the good that it will do for us to do this now.

WTF is the matter with Republicans, that they won’t even let us maintain the country’s infrastructure?? They call it “just more big-government spending.” In fact they force this sequester of cuts, and demand even more cuts! (More here, here, here, here, here, here, here.)

In this mornings post, Washington’s Literal Sinkhole, And Our Idiotic Fixation On Deficitswritten before the bridge collapse — Bob Borosage laid it out,

There is an idiocy about our current national politics that is simply stupefying. We are sitting idly, watching, and suffering, as our nation disintegrates into a run-down backwater. Our airports are a global disgrace. Our railroads, broadband, energy grid are all outmoded by international standards. A bridge falls every other day. Our sewage systems are overwhelmed by normal use, and collapse in the extreme weather that has become the national norm. Sinkholes now are becoming a life-threatening peril.

At the same time, over 20 million people are in need of full-time work.

1) Urgent need to fix the infrastructure.
2) Urgent unemployment problem.
3) Fixing #1 fixes #2.
4) We can get the money for free.
5) It isn’t “government spending” it is investment in ourselves because after we fix or build a bridge we have the bridge and all the things that does for the economy.
6) WTF?

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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

Deficit Fixed. Now Fix The Job Gap, Wage Gap And Trade Gap

The deficit is now down 60 percent as a percent of gross domestic product. It is down more than the deficit hawks Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles asked for. This rapid reduction is seriously hurting the economy and jobs, but demands for cuts continue. It is time for Congress and the President to “pivot” to focusing on our real problems: the jobs gap, the wage gap and the trade gap.

Mythical Deficit Problem Solved

The “deficit problem” is man-made. When Bill Clinton was president we were paying off the debt. George W. Bush turned Clinton’s budget surpluses right around, calling deficits “extremely positive news” because they would later force cuts in government. Ronald Reagan’s “strategic deficits” began a strategy to make the borrowing appear so bad that the public would be panicked into allowing cuts in the things government does to make our lives better – so the wealthy few could have even more wealth and power. (Reagan tripled the national debt, Bush doubled it again.)

So after Bush we had a problem. When ‘W’ left office the budget deficit was $1.4 trillion. Then after Obama took office Wall Street and the right started terrifying the public about deficits and outlining their “solutions”: Cut government, cut regulation of the giant corporations, cut entitlements, cut investment in infrastructure, privatize public assets, cut the safety net, etc… Cut the things that government does to make our lives better (government spending) and cut the things government does to protect us from the immense power of the insanely wealthy and their giant corporations.

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