The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is likely to come up for a vote in the “lame-duck” session of Congress that follows the November presidential election. Will the Democratic Party vote to put the platform on record against this, or will corporate interests win out yet again? This is an either-or, whose-side-are-you-on moment that will define the election campaign.
If the Democratic National Committee does not put TPP opposition into the platform it will lead to a public, televised convention floor fight.
Will The Democratic Party Platform Oppose A Lame Duck TPP Vote?
This weekend the full Democratic platform drafting committee meets in Orlando. Delegates will be debating an amendment offered by columnist and progressive activist Jim Hightower, a Sanders delegate, putting the party on record opposing a vote on the TPP during the “lame-duck” session of Congress that follows the election.
The amendment calls for striking platform language that effectively blesses Democrats who “have expressed support for the agreement” and replaces it with this: “It is the policy of the Democratic Party that the Trans-Pacific Partnership must not get a vote in this Congress or in future sessions of Congress.”
Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have all announced opposition to a TPP vote in the lame-duck session, but Wall Street interests, corporate groups like the Chamber of Commerce, many Republicans – and, unfortunately, President Obama – are pushing for this anyway.
Despite statements of opposition to the TPP from both Clinton and Sanders, a subset of the committee recently voted down the proposal to oppose the TPP. A majority of delegates (all Clinton backers) expressed concern that this would bring the party in opposition to President Obama.
If the committee does not put this into the platform this weekend, there will be enough convention delegates opposing the TPP to guarantee a “floor fight” – a televised debate and a vote – over this at the convention. The outcome is fairly certain because all Sanders delegates support this amendment, and it is almost unthinkable that Clinton delegates will vote against Clinton’s own stated opposition to the TPP.
Progressive Coalitions Deliver Petitions To Pelosi, Platform Committee
A coalition of progressive organizations on Thursday delivered hundreds of thousands of petition signatures asking House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to declare her opposition to a lame-duck TPP vote. The coalition includes organizations ranging from Campaign for America’s Future to People’s Action to MoveOn to CREDO to Daily Kos and Demand Progress.
On Friday, another coalition will deliver more than a million signatures to the platform committee itself, demanding that it add an amendment opposing a lame-duck TPP vote.
The coalition hosted a Thursday press call featuring radio and TV personality Ed Schultz. Shultz began the call, saying this is about support of middle-class families in this country. He said there has never been a more damaging trade agreement than the TPP. Speaking to the platform committee, he said, “If you are for American families and want to correct course of inequality you have to oppose this deal. … This is not about Obama’s legacy, this is about American families that are struggling.”
Also on the call, Murshed Zaheed, vice president and political director of CREDO said that its members have signed over 1 million petitions to stop the TPP, and have made over 50,000 calls. “There’s a reason every major presidential candidate opposes TPP,” he said. “TPP is an undemocratic corporate power grab.”
“This also a political battle,” said Campaign for America’s Future co-founder Roger Hickey. “Tomorrow we are hoping that members of the Democratic platform committee will amend the platform and put the Democratic Party clearly on record against a lame-duck vote. … Without this, it allows Donald Trump to continue to say Democrats are not serious.”
A Lame Duck TPP Vote Insults Democracy
The “lame duck” is a term used for the Congressional session between the election and the next Congress. People who follow politics understand that political accountability to constituents is at its absolute lowest at this time. Senators and representatives who have been voted out (many for supporting the TPP) and are looking for lobbying jobs, and those who were re-elected with corporate money and need to repay their donors, will be voting. Members who were elected because of their opposition to the TPP will not yet be sworn in and voting. This all happens two years before there is any chance for the public to hold members of Congress accountable.
With the TPP enormously unpopular, with candidates Clinton, Trump and Sanders all opposed, with 83 percent of Democrats in Congress voting against fast-tracking the trade agreement last year, the lame-duck Congressional session is the best chance for corporate interests to push TPP around the interests of democracy. So they are going to try to do exactly that.
Leaders should care deeply about the will of the public, not scheme to subvert it. This push for a vote on TPP after the election is an insult to democracy. It is an insult to our economy. It is an insult to the candidates. It is an insult to voters. Don’t do it.
Whose Side Are They On?
It is clearly time for Democrats to decide and declare whether they are on the side of working people and the American middle class, or on the side of Wall Street, giant multinational corporations, the Chamber of Commerce and other corporate lobbying interests. They have to decide if they are on the side of the 99 percent 1 percent. They have to decide if they are on the side of protecting the environment or protecting corporate profits.
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have said they oppose the TPP. The Democratic Party platform should reflect this and go on the record that Democrats oppose a rigged “lame-duck” vote.
Donald Trump is selling himself as the champion of working-class voters. He says Democrats and their presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, are selling them out with trade deals. But Trump is just a fraud.
Unfortunately, President Obama is pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement and Clinton is not confronting him for doing so.
That has to change – fast. Clinton must publicly, directly and loudly challenge President Obama and demand that he withdraw TPP from consideration by Congress.
Trump’s Trade Speech
Trump’s speech on trade and “globalization” issues attempted to frame Clinton and Democrats as being on the side of the “Wall Street” forces that have pushed low-wage policies on working-class Americans. He is using the upcoming and hated TPP being pushed by President Obama as an example of this, saying Clinton is only “pretending” to oppose TPP in order to get votes.
From the speech:
The legacy of Pennsylvania steelworkers lives in the bridges, railways and skyscrapers that make up our great American landscape.
But our workers’ loyalty was repaid with betrayal.
Our politicians have aggressively pursued a policy of globalization — moving our jobs, our wealth and our factories to Mexico and overseas.
Globalization has made the financial elite who donate to politicians very wealthy. But it has left millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache.
[. . .] The people who rigged the system are supporting Hillary Clinton because they know as long as she is in charge nothing will ever change.
In Trump’s usage, the words “trade” and “globalization” mean one and only one thing: moving American jobs and factories to low-wage countries. This movement of jobs in recent decades, pitting American workers against exploited workers who are paid squat and can’t do anything about it, has been used as one lever to intentionally create unemployment, break the unions and force down wages. (Inflation panic leading to Federal Reserve interest rate increases, deficit scares leading to austerity — especially the refusal to spend on infrastructure – and obstruction leading to minimum wage stagnation are others.)
Trump is appealing to disaffected working class workers who used to vote Democratic, but have seen their jobs shipped out of the country and/or their wages cut or stagnate. These workers see Democrats as complicit in adopting free-trade deindustrialization policies. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), pushed and signed by President Clinton, has become a catchall symbol of this disaffection with free-trade policies, but Democrats are generally seen as having done little to fight such policies.
President Obama contributed to the problem by campaigning with a promise to renegotiate NAFTA, then reneging on this promise once elected.
Pressing his staunch opposition to trade deals, Donald J. Trump escalated his attacks on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, saying it was “totally controlled by the special interest groups.”
“They’re a special interest that wants to have the deals that they want to have,” he told a packed arena at a rally here, to whoops and cheers. “They want to have T.P.P., the Trans-Pacific Partnership, one of the worst deals, and it’ll be the worst deal since NAFTA.”
[. . .] saying the Chamber was “controlled totally by various groups of people that don’t care about you whatsoever.”
Obama Pushing TPP As Election Nears
Clinton has said she is opposed to TPP, and opposed to letting TPP come up for a vote in the “lame duck” session of Congress that follows the election. But as Trump makes trade a centerpiece of his campaign, her opposition and trade focus has not been particularly vocal. She has not asked Democrats in Congress to oppose the TPP, and thanks to past Democratic betrayals many in the public just do not believe her.
Unfortunately, as the election nears, President Obama is pushing and pushing hard to get the TPP passed. Doing this directly conflicts with Clinton’s need to show that Democrats are on the side of working people and provides Trump with powerful ammunition.
Making matters worse, efforts to write TPP opposition into the Democratic Party platform were voted down – by Clinton delegates. Unlike Trump, Democrats do not appear to understand how much this matters to voters.
The recent “Brexit” vote should serve as a warning to Democrats to take issues like this more seriously. Working-class voters in the UK voted to leave the European Union (EU) for reasons similar to the appeal Trump is making to working-class voters here.
Analyzing the “Leave” vote in “A Working-Class Brexit,” University of Kent Professor Tim Strangleman writes the following. As you read it, substitute “Democrats” for “Labour”, “Bill Clinton” for “Blair”, “elites supporting free trade agreements” for “remain”, “anti-TPP” for “leave” and “Trump” for “UKIP”:
Resignation, despair, and political apathy have been present in many former industrial regions since the wholesale deindustrialisation of the … economy in the 1980s and 1990s. The election of the Blair-led Labour administration … masked the anger felt in these areas as traditional labour supporters and their needs were often ignored, while traditional Labour supporters were used as voting fodder. Over the … years of Labour power, that support ebbed away, first as a simple decline in votes, but gradually turning into active hostility to the Labour party. Many embraced the UK Independence Party (UKIP).
…for unskilled workers with only a secondary school education, three decades or more of neo-liberalism has left deep scars socially, politically, and culturally, with little hope or expectation that anything would change for the better.
This opposition, so skillfully drawn on by the leave campaign, is in part a working class reaction not only to six years of austerity but also to a long and deep-seated sense of injustice and marginalisation. Most of the remain side, which was a cross party grouping, didn’t seem to understand this before the referendum and, even more depressingly, doesn’t seem to understand it fully now. A stock characterisation of working-class people who intended to vote leave was to label them as unable understanding the issues, easily manipulated, or worse, racist ‘little Englanders’.
Doesn’t this sound just like the working-class voters in places like Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania and other “deindustrialized” parts of the country? These voters used to reliably vote for Democrats, the party that watched out for working people. Donald Trump is appealing directly to these voters. Democrats should not dismiss these voters as “ignorant” or “racist.”
Trump Is A Fraud On Trade
The Economic Policy Institute’s (EPI) Robert Scott, speaking to VICE, summed up why Trump only appears to have the correct analysis on trade:
“Like a drive-by shooting, he fires enough bullets, he’s going to hit some things that might look like a policy that works,” Scott told VICE. “But it doesn’t have a coherence.”
“The problem with NAFTA is that we failed to effectively help Mexico develop as part of the agreement,” Scott continued. A good model, he said, was what wealthier European nations did for their neighbors like Greece and Spain decades ago, pumping money into their economies to create new markets for goods, thus making a Pan-European economy possible.
“We could create such a vision and implement a truly united North American economy that worked for everybody but nobody’s put that on the table,” he said. “Certainly Trump is not talking about that—he’s talking about building walls.”
It’s true that the way we have undertaken globalization has hurt the vast majority of working people in this country—a view that EPI has been articulating for years, and that we will continue to articulate well after November. However, Trump’s speech makes it seem as if globalization is solely responsible for wage suppression, and that elite Democrats are solely responsible for globalization. Missing from his tale is the role of corporations and their allies have played in pushing this agenda, and the role the party he leads has played in implementing it. After all, NAFTA never would have passed without GOP votes, as two-thirds of the House Democrats opposed it.
Republican efforts to drive wages down are the real culprit here:
Furthermore, Trump has heretofore ignored the many other intentional policies that businesses and the top 1 percent have pushed to suppress wages over the last four decades. Start with excessive unemployment due to Federal Reserve Board policies which were antagonistic to wage growth and friendly to the finance sector and bondholders. Excessive unemployment leads to less wage growth, especially for low- and middle-wage workers. Add in government austerity at the federal and state levels—which has mostly been pushed by GOP governors and legislatures—that has impeded the recovery and stunted wage growth. There’s also the decimation of collective bargaining, which is the single largest reason that middle class wages have faltered. Meanwhile, the minimum wage is now more than 25 percent below its 1968 level, even though productivity since then has more than doubled. Phasing in a $15 minimum wage would lift wages for at least a third of the workforce. The most recent example is the effort to overturn the recent raising of the overtime threshold that would help more than 12 million middle-wage salaried workers obtain overtime protections.
Trump in his “trade” speech also called for getting rid of corporate taxes and getting rid of regulations on corporations. He also opposes having any minimum wage at all. Trump and the Republicans are hardly friends of working people.
Opposing TPP Must Be In The Democratic Platform
British elites were surprised when working-class voters decided to “Brexit” and “Leave” the EU. They had been more-or-less complacent about the anger that working people are feeling out there as jobs leave the country, wages are stagnant or falling, work hours get longer for those who have jobs, and the rich just get richer.
Voting against opposition to TPP in the Democratic platform shows that Democrats appear to have the same complacency on trade.
Democrats must get this right. They have to stand up for working people and demand that our trade policies start helping people instead of hurting them. That starts with Clinton demanding that the president withdraw TPP from consideration by Congress.
Clinton must pledge to renegotiate all of our trade agreements, this time with labor, environmental, consumer, human rights and other “stakeholder” groups at the table. This is the best way to show the public that she is on their side.
Here are ways to help Democrats get to the right place on this, and put TPP opposition in the platform:
Economists are still arguing over whether moving our jobs out of the country affects what the people still here get paid. Yes, really.
For example, Jared Bernstein in The Washington Post looks at different studies of the effect of moving jobs out of the country. One study, by economists David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson (referred to by Bernstein as “ADH”), was published in January by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The other, by economist Josh Bivens at the Economic Policy Institute, was published in 2013. Both found that moving jobs out of the country hurt the wages of not just the affected workers but everyone in the surrounding area. The question is, does this wage-depressing effect spread outside the local area?
Bernstein writes, “The analytic question is twofold. First, are American workers really hurt by trade competition, and second, if so, are there spillovers to those not directly in competition with imports?”
Is it really “extreme” to think we should have fair trade policies?
The New York Times on Tuesday published a story by Nelson D. Schwartz and Quoctrung Bui, “Where Jobs Are Squeezed by Chinese Trade, Voters Seek Extremes,” reporting that, “research to be unveiled this week by four leading academic economists suggests that the damage to manufacturing jobs from a sharp acceleration in globalization since the turn of the century has contributed heavily to the nation’s bitter political divide.”
By “sharp acceleration in globalization since the turn of the century” they mean millions and millions of manufacturing jobs, and more than 60,000 factories, all moved to China since 2000 to take advantage of China’s non-democracy that allows exploitation of workers and the environment. (But China doesn’t really “trade” with us by buying things, resulting in a record $365.7 billion trade deficit with China just last year.)
Hillary Clinton has a credibility problem when it comes to our country’s trade policies and the resulting enormous, humongous trade deficits that measure job loss – especially with regard to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
But Clinton has a chance to shore up her credibility with Democratic voters on this issue. It comes as President Obama, Wall Street and the multinational corporations are preparing to grease the skids for pushing the TPP through Congress in the post-election “lame duck” session.
Clinton, Credibility And Free Trade
Following months of demands that she take a position on the trade agreement, Clinton stated during an October PBS Newshour interview (just before the first debate with candidate Bernie Sanders) that TPP could, “… end up doing more harm than good for hard-working American families whose paychecks have barely budged in years.”
Unfortunately for Clinton, few believe she means it. The business community, for example, sees Clinton’s position as simple posturing to voters for the election, believing she will switch back to supporting the agreement immediately after the election, as Obama did on NAFTA after promising throughout the 2008 campaign to renegotiate the agreement.
Buckeye State voters in both parties delivered wins to trade-friendly candidates on Tuesday—and denied them to a pair who staked their claims on pledges to oppose new deals, starting with the Trans Pacific Partnership. That outcome was in doubt after Ohio’s neighbors to the north in Michigan last week voted for reality-show billionaire Donald Trump and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the most aggressive trade foes in the field.
But in Ohio, Hillary Clinton and home-state Gov. John Kasich prevailed.
The business community doesn’t believe for a minute that Clinton really opposes TPP.
Working-class voters have a similar problem, solidly identifying Clinton with free-trade positions. Candidate Bernie Sanders has used this perception against her, winning Michigan and Wisconsin and gaining on her in Ohio and other states. These wins were a result of campaigning as a candidate who will restore balance to our country’s trade policies, as opposed to Clinton as a candidate favoring agreements that send jobs out of the country and who has even said such offshoring “is probably a plus for the economy in the long run.”
President Obama Presents Clinton With An Opportunity To Restore Credibility
President Obama is presenting Clinton with an opportunity to restore her credibility on TPP. Politico’s Morning Trade reported on Monday that the Obama administration is ramping up “a process” for “pushing for TPP approval in Congress.”
The escalating anti-trade rhetoric emerging from the presidential election isn’t striking any fear in the heart of President Barack Obama or decreasing his willingness to send the TPP to Congress for approval, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said in an interview with Pro Trade’s Doug Palmer.
“This president is not intimidated and he’s not afraid to act here,” she said. “We have a process we have to go through first. We reviewed the process this week, so we could understand all the steps. This president is fully committed to TPP, as is our administration and, frankly, as is the business community.”
Pritzker said she met with the CEOs and former CEOs of Caterpillar, Boeing and the Campbell Soup Company in recent days to talk about “the efforts their companies are going to make” as well as the efforts of the Business Roundtable, which Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman chairs. She added that businesses are “raring to go” when it comes to pushing for TPP approval in Congress.
Also in Monday’s Morning Trade, another Obama official says “there will be an opportunity to get TPP done this year,” likely meaning after the election:
National Economic Council Director Jeff Zients argued forcefully on Friday for Congress to approve TPP. … “So I am very confident that there will be an opportunity to get TPP done this year, and we’ve got to do everything we can to get it done because, if we don’t, there’s no guarantee when we’ll have our next shot,” he said, arguing the trade deal matters to U.S. workers and businesses. “I can assure you it matters to this president, which is why he will be doing everything he can to get TPP done.”
Obama’s push for TPP therefore harms Clinton as she tries to be seen by voters as the Obama successor. Voters hate the TPP. Having that threat of its passage after the election hanging out there only harms Clinton in the eyes of the electorate. Candidate Clinton has an opportunity to address her TPP credibility problem by asking Obama to withdraw TPP from consideration by Congress, and calling on her supporters and endorsers in Congress to join her in demanding that the agreement be withdrawn.
Should our own government help oligarchs, billionaires and their corporations, criminals and terrorists hide their loot, launder their funds, and drain countries and their governments of needed revenue? Or should our government try to help stop this?
So far our government has too often been on the side of the bad guys.
Criminals, drug cartels, human traffickers, arms dealers, tax evaders, corrupt politicians, terrorists, oligarchs and plutocrats can use anonymous, secret shell corporations in tax-haven countries to stash, launder and hide their money. There are trillions of dollars of hidden wealth, much of it accumulated through crime and corruption. The secrecy is draining governments around the world of badly needed tax revenue, and it is enhancing and accelerating poverty and inequality.
A new report finds that around the world the extremely wealthy have accumulated at least $21 trillion in secretive offshore accounts. That’s a sum equal to the gross domestic products of the United States and Japan added together. The number may sound unbelievable, but the study was conducted by James Henry, former chief economist at the consultancy McKinsey, an expert on tax havens and offshoring. It was commissioned by Tax Justice Network, a British activist group.
The Panama Papers
The Panama Papers exposé by The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has helped expose how certain countries enable the world’s plutocrats, outlaws, corrupt leaders, terrorists, warmongers, and the rest of the worst to use tax havens and anonymous shell corporations to hide their wealth, dodge taxes, dodge sanctions and even drain the wealth of countries. The reporting so far shows that just one Panama company had created up to 215,000 offshore shell companies for 14,153 clients. The reports link 143 politicians (or their families and close associates) to the use of tax havens to shield huge amounts of money. Again, this is from just one company in just one tax-haven, anonymous shell corporation-enabling country.
This also exposes how our own government is sometimes a party to enabling, even encouraging this activity. Our own government allows anonymous shell corporations here at home, and does not fight countries that enable them abroad when it negotiates so-called “trade” agreements that are supposed to lay down rules for financial interaction.
So-Called “Trade” Agreements, For Example
Our government negotiates what are called “trade” agreements with other countries. These negotiations are an opportunity to set up the rules for financial interactions between countries.
The 2012 U.S.- Panama Trade Promotion Agreement is promoted by our own U.S. Trade Representative’s office as “a comprehensive free trade agreement that provides elimination of tariffs and removes barriers to U.S. services, including financial services.” This agreement was an opportunity to fight global tax evasion, shell-corporation secrecy and other results of Panama’s bank and corporate secrecy. We could have negotiated to require an end to bank secrecy and shell corporations. But bank and corporate secrecy were not even part of the negotiations.
This demonstrates how the warped priorities of our “trade” process are hurting not just U.S. citizens and government but all citizens and governments.
Before the Panama trade agreement was approved, individuals, organizations and even politicians warned repeatedly that the agreement would enhance the ability of corporations and individuals to hide wealth and taxable income from governments and criminal investigators.
In 2011, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, for example, gave a speech on the Senate floor opposing the trade agreement, warning that Panama’s entire economic output at the time was obviously too low to be of any benefit to American workers. “Then why would we be considering a stand-alone free-trade agreement with Panama?” Sanders said the real reason for the agreement is that “Panama is a world leader when it comes to allowing wealthy Americans and large corporations to evade taxes.” He said it “will make this bad situation much worse.”
It’s so easy for U.S. corporations to set up an offshore tax haven in Panama, an intern could do it. Really! To make this point, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division had one of its interns call up some Panamanian law firms for advice on starting up a shell company.
“Panamanian corporations basically pay no taxes on foreign-derived income,” one man explained to the intern, Jessica. Another said: “You’re protected by the strictest banking secrecy laws in the world,” thereby “totally removing you from the legal trail.”
Public Citizen was warning that the Panama Free Trade Agreement (FTA) did not fight and in fact further enabled the secrecy:
“It would give investors registered in Panama new rights to challenge U.S. anti-tax haven regulations and other initiatives for taxpayer-funded compensation,” said Todd Tucker, research director for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division, in an interview with The Huffington Post.
… Tucker said that the Panama FTA would compromise the Obama administration’s recently-announced crackdown on tax havens, which the president said would save $210 billion over the next decade. (A 2008 Senate report estimated that the U.S. loses $100 billion to tax havens every year.)
With so many groups and individuals warning that the Panama agreement would boost the ability of people and corporations to dodge U.S. taxes using subsidiary shell corporations and secret bank accounts, the Obama administration announced in 2010 a “Tax Information Exchange Agreement with Panama.” This agreement had a loophole letting Panama to set aside tax transparency provisions if Panama decides they are “contrary to the public policy” of Panama. Of course, Panama invoked the loophole because so much of Panama’s income comes from bank secrecy, tax-free status and the ability to set up anonymous Panama shell corporations.
This week Public Citizen’s Lori Wallach issued a statement on the revelations in The Panama Papers:
“Nearly five years after the U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement (FTA) vote, the Panama Paper leak proves once again how entirely cynical and meaningless are the American presidents’ and corporate boosters’ lavish promises of economic benefits and policy reforms from trade agreements. The top promise about the benefit of the U.S.-Panama FTA was that it would end Panama’s financial crime secrecy protections and tax haven and money laundering activities, but what this leak shows is that, if anything, Panama’s outrageous financial crime facilitation has intensified while the FTA’s investor protections and official U.S. stamp of approval have increased inflows of dirty money to Panama.
The silver lining in the Panama Papers scandal is that the world’s attention is being focused on a global problem in which the wealthy and powerful act beyond the reach of law, playing by a different set of rules from the rest of us. The United States does not have to go it alone in addressing this problem. But our elected officials, and the people running to be our next president, should lead. Supporting legislation that supports more transparency would be a start.
Countries that allow banking secrecy, the formation of anonymous shell corporations and tax-haven status should be considered rogue, outlaw countries. There should be international sanctions against individuals and corporations that do any business with such countries. There certainly should not be “free trade” agreements with such countries.
Harmonizing international tax law and prohibiting anonymous shell corporations should be at the center of our trade negotiations. Unfortunately, our corporate/billionaire-dominated trade process appears to have worked toward just the opposite. We the People and all of trade’s stakeholders – labor, consumer, human rights, environmental, democracy and other such groups – need to have seats alongside our businesses and government representatives at the trade negotiating table.
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.
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.
Our country’s “free trade” agreements have followed a framework of trading away our democracy and middle-class prosperity in exchange for letting the biggest corporations dominate.
There are those who say any increase in trade is good. But if you close a factory here and lay off the workers, open the factory “there” to make the same things the factory here used to make, bring those things into the country to sell in the same outlets, you have just “increased trade” because now those goods cross a border. Supporters of free trade are having a harder and harder time convincing American workers this is good for them.
Free trade is when goods and services are bought and sold between countries without tariffs, duties and quotas. The idea is that some countries “do things better” than other countries, which these days basically means they offer lower labor and environmental-protection costs. Allowing other countries to do things in ways that cost less “frees up resources” which can theoretically be used for investment at home.
“Free trade”: The elites are selling it but the public is longer buying it. Look at the support for Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Donald Trump, especially in light of Sanders’ surprise 20-point comeback in this week’s Michigan primary. With primaries coming soon in Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina, will Sanders’ trade appeal resonate again?
Voters See Free Trade Killing Their Jobs And Wages
Voters have figured out that our country’s current “free trade” policies are killing their jobs, wages, cities, regions and the country’s middle class. Giant multinational corporations and billionaires do great under free trade, the rest of us not so much.
Elites say increasing trade is always good. But when you close a factory here, then open the factory “there” and bring the same goods back to sell in the same outlets, you have “increased trade” because those goods now cross a border. The differential between wages paid here and there goes into the pockets of the executives and shareholders. Those unemployed American workers add to wage pressures on the rest of us. Inequality increases.
There are other bad consequences as the effects of free trade ripple through local economies. The stores and gas stations and restaurants where the workers shopped and dined have to cut back. The factory’s suppliers have to cut back and lay off, too. Property values drop in the neighborhoods where all of those workers lived. The local tax base erodes. Roads and buildings and downtowns deteriorate… (The old lead pipes going to the houses do not get replaced.)
On a national scale, these local effects add up to a tragedy.
The national industrial ecosystem collapses as well. The manufacturing “know-how” migrates out of the country. The schools that taught people how to do what the factory did drop those classes. The investors who know how to evaluate manufacturing proposals go away. The raw materials pipeline migrates away. Reviving the outsourced industries will require tremendous and nationally coordinated investment.
For decades we’ve been told all this is actually good for “us.” But people have come to understand that the “us” this is good for doesn’t include about 99 percent of “us” or our country.
Trade Behind Sanders’ Michigan Upset
Sanders’ Michigan primary upset was most likely driven by his repeated trade message. Michigan’s primary upset demonstrates again that voters have caught on that our country’s trade policies have sent millions of jobs out of the country, put tremendous downward pressure on wages, decimated regions of the country (Flint, Detroit, the “rust belt”) and are dealing a death blow to America’s middle class.
Watch this Sanders ad on the damage our trade deals have done:
While people talk about “NAFTA” (the North American Free Trade Agreement) the term is really used as a shorthand for all of our country’s disastrous trade policies, including the millions of jobs and tens of thousands of factories outsourced to China.
The exit polling from Michigan indicates that most voters there are wary of free trade agreements — and that Sanders and Trump drubbed their opponents among those voters.
According to CNN, 58 percent of Democratic voters polled after casting ballots said they believe U.S. trade with other countries takes away U.S. jobs, compared with just 30 percent who said they believe it creates them. Among that group, Sanders won by a whopping 17-point margin: 58 percent to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s 41 percent. He won the primary overall by less than a 2-point margin.
[. . .] Trade — and resentment toward U.S. trade policy — has been the sleeper issue in 2016. By eliminating trade barriers with low-wage countries, the North American Free Trade Agreement and subsequent treaties over the past two decades have encouraged U.S. companies to move jobs to countries where workers are paid less.
Sanders has made a point of pressing Clinton on trade throughout the Democratic debates, including just days ago. The Vermont independent has been a vocal opponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal with 12 Pacific Rim countries championed by President Barack Obama. Clinton’s stance on the deal hasn’t beennearly as clear.
Mr. Sanders pulled off a startling upset in Michigan on Tuesday by traveling to communities far from Detroit and by hammering Mrs. Clinton on an issue that resonated in this still-struggling state: her past support for trade deals that workers here believe robbed them of manufacturing jobs. Almost three-fifths of voters said that trade with other countries was more likely to take away jobs, according to exit polls by Edison Research, and those voters favored Mr. Sanders by a margin of more than 10 points.
The salience of trade, in a state where unemployment had tumbled more than half since the start of the Great Recession, blindsided a Democratic Party that has struggled to find coherence between its labor base and its neoliberal leadership. It also worried Republicans, whose leaders and donors are resolutely in favor of free trade.
“There has been a bipartisan conventional wisdom that the damage done to working-class jobs and incomes are simply part of inevitable changes, ones we cannot and should not challenge,” said Larry Mishel, president of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “Even President Obama is blaming inequality problems on technological change, which is not even a plausible explanation for post-2000 America. People correctly understand that many elites simply believe that wage stagnation is something we cannot change.”
… In Michigan, exit pollsters for the first time asked voters whether they thought trade created or took away American jobs. The “take away” faction made up 55 percent of the Republican primary vote and 57 percent of the Democratic primary vote. Trump won the GOP faction with 45 percent, and Sanders won the Democratic side with 56 percent.
A YUGE part of Donald Trump’s appeal is his position on trade. A new poll shows that 66% of Republican voters oppose TPP.
Last week’s post, Trump Taps Into Economic Anxiety Resulting From ‘Free Trade’ noted that “Trump is tapping into an economic anxiety felt by many, many Americans. Our trade policies are at the root of this anxiety, and Trump knows it and says it, and people nod their heads.” Here is Trump speaking after the “Super Tuesday” primaries:
Our nation is in serious trouble. we’re being killed on trade, absolutely destroyed, China is just taking advantage of us. I have nothing against China, I have great respect for China but their leaders are just too smart of our leaders, our leaders don’t have a clue. And the trade deficits at 400 billion dollars and 500 billion dollars, are too much, no country can sustain that kind of trade deficit. It won’t be that way for long, we have the greatest business leaders in the world, on my team already, and believe me we’re going to redo those trade deals and it’s going to be a thing of beauty.
Trump has been sounding this message throughout his campaign. Here is Trump on trade from last November:
“I’ll tell you, there’s one thing that we’ve very similar on,” Trump said during a town hall hosted by MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. “He knows that our country is being ripped off big league, big league, on trade.”
1. A message of economic populism, particularly protectionism, is much more potent in the Rust Belt than we understood.
Most Michiganders feel like they are victims of trade deals, going back to NAFTA under Bill Clinton, and they’re deeply suspicious of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Outsourcing has helped hollow out the state’s once mighty manufacturing core.
Trump and Sanders both successfully tapped into this.
Six in 10 Michigan Democratic primary voters said international trade takes away U.S. jobs, and Sanders won these voters by roughly 20 points, according to preliminary exit poll data reported by CNN. Only 3 in 10 thought trade creates jobs; Clinton won that group.
One-third of voters said Clinton is too pro-business. Sanders won more than four in five of them.
… Clinton, after speaking supportively of the TPP, flip-flopped once the agreement was signed.
4. Free trade is Clinton’s albatross. Just as the cable networks were calling the shocker for Sanders, an email popped into my inbox from one architect of Obama’s 2008 triumph, who was travelling overseas. “Americans really hate free trade,” he wrote. “Don’t know how else to explain it. Same thing running through republican race.”
Clinton … has the burden of schlepping the albatross of NAFTA with her throughout the Midwest. This is where voters’ lack of trust and her core belief in the value of open markets for American manufacturers collide: When Clinton questions free trade nobody really believes her; Sanders’ thunderous anti-free trade talk taps a vein of deep grievance, his cash advantage allowed him to saturate markets with word of his opposition to TPP and NAFTA – and his debate-stage answer on the topic was pithier and more convincing than Clinton’s.
Will Sanders’ Trade Position Resonate In Upcoming Primaries?
And a new statewide poll of likely Ohio voters finds trade will likely be a dominant issue in the March 15 primary, as vast majorities of respondents worry that the United States has “lost too many manufacturing jobs” and think it would be effective to “crack down on foreign countries that violate their trade agreements.”
… Conducted Feb. 27 to March 2 by Public Opinion Research and The Mellman Group, the poll looked at voter opinion on trade, manufacturing and the presidential candidates. Researchers discovered that while support for American manufacturing is nearly universal, majorities of respondents are worried about a shrinking middle class and the impact of manufacturing job loss.
Most participants are also concerned about foreign trade, including with China. Ninety-one percent agreed that it’s time for crack down on countries that violate trade agreements, and 83 percent said that it is important that China is officially declared a currency manipulator.
… Other key findings:
● 93 percent of participants worry that the U.S. has “lost too many manufacturing jobs in this country.”
● 74 percent of participants have unfavorable views of “manufactured goods made in China,” including 77 percent of “conservative” respondents.
● 96 percent of participants are favorable of “manufactured goods made in America,” including 98 percent of “conservative members of the GOP.”
● 92 percent of participants think that “too many jobs are being shipped overseas” and 86 percent are worried they “don’t seem to manufacture anything here in America anymore.”
Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina have also been hammered by outsourcing of jobs caused by trade policies and likely have similar sentiments.
There Is A Better Way To Do Trade
Current U.S. trade policies are written by representatives of multinational corporations with the intent of locking in their dominance while driving wages and environmental costs down. The resulting agreements are clearly in their interests and not the rest of us. Our country’s enormous, humongous trade deficit is a metric for understanding the damage being done to our country.
Now that the public is clearly rejecting the current trade approach, there are alternatives available. Just having non-corporate stakeholders including representatives of labor, consumer, human rights, environmental and other groups at the table would bring about a more fair and just trade regime.
● Protect Congress’ Authority to Set Trade Policy
● Restore Balanced trade
● Put Workers First
● Stop Currency Manipulation
● Expand Buy America Procurement Practices
● Protect the Environment for Future Generations
● Prioritize Consumers above Profits
● Protect Nationhood Rights
● Secure Affordable Access to Essential Medicines and Services
● Respect Human Rights
● Provide a Safety Net for Vulnerable Workers
● Create shared gains for the workers whose labor creates society’s wealth.
● Strengthen protections for the environment. Companies must not use trade rules to pit one country’s environmental rules against another, as they seek the lowest-cost place to produce.
● Protect the freedom to regulate in the public interest.
● Set rules for fair competition. Workers of a nation must not be unduly disadvantaged by unfair economic competition resulting from choices about how to organize their economies.
● Include strong rules of origin so that trade agreements are not merely a conduit to ease the global corporation’s race to the bottom.
● Not provide extraordinary privileges to foreign investors.
● Effectively address currency manipulation.
● Retain the ability for all nations to stimulate their economies through domestic infrastructure and spending programs.
● Protect the right of governments to choose the scope and level of public services to provide.
● Protect intellectual property (IP) in a fair and balanced manner.
● Protect the unique U.S. transportation regulatory and legal structure.
● Protect the right of governments to secure the integrity and stability of their financial systems.
● Be negotiated in an open, democratic and accountable manner.
● Be flexible and responsive.
As the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “free-trade” agreement was signed in New Zealand by representatives of the 12 participating countries, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders strongly voiced his opposition and committed to doing what he can to kill the deal if he is elected president.
Rival Hillary Clinton has also stated opposition to the TPP, but will she also vow to kill it if elected?
Sanders Vows To Kill TPP
Saying that TPP follows in the footsteps of failed trade agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA, and Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with China, Sanders promised to “fundamentally rewrite our trade policies to benefit working families, not just the CEOs of large, multinational corporations.”