On Trade, Angry Voters Have a Point
Were the experts wrong about the benefits of trade for the American economy?
The nation’s working class will have another opportunity to demonstrate its political clout Tuesday night, as primary voters go to the polls in Illinois and Ohio, Rust Belt states that have suffered intensely from the loss of good manufacturing jobs. Last week, the insurrection handed Michigan’s Democratic primary to Bernie Sanders while continuing to buoy the insurgent Republican candidacy of Donald Trump.
随着伊利诺伊州和俄亥俄州的初选选民前往投票站，这两个丢失了大量就业机会的传统工业州的美国工人阶级周二晚将再次有机会展示他们的政治影响力。上周，密歇根州的造反选民把民主党初选的胜利送给了伯尼·桑德斯(Bernie Sanders)，同时继续保持了非正统的唐纳德·特朗普(Donald Trump)在共和党总统候选人中的领先地位。
Voters’ anger and frustration, driven in part by relentless globalization and technological change, may not propel either candidate to the presidency. But it is already having a big impact on America’s future, shaking a once-solid consensus that freer trade is, necessarily, a good thing.
“The economic populism of the presidential campaign has forced the recognition that expanded trade is a double-edged sword,” wrote Jared Bernstein, former economic adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
“总统竞选活动中的经济民粹主义迫使人们认识到，不断扩大的贸易是一把双刃剑，”副总统小约瑟夫·R·拜登(Joseph R. Biden Jr.)的前经济顾问贾里德·伯恩斯坦(Jared Bernstein)写道。
What seems most striking is that the angry working class — dismissed so often as myopic, unable to understand the economic trade-offs presented by trade — appears to have understood what the experts are only belatedly finding to be true: The benefits from trade to the American economy may not always justify its costs.
In a recent study, three economists — David Autor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, David Dorn at the University of Zurich and Gordon Hanson at the University of California, San Diego — raised a profound challenge to all of us brought up to believe that economies quickly recover from trade shocks. In theory, a developed industrial country like the United States adjusts to import competition by moving workers into more advanced industries that can successfully compete in global markets.
在最近的一项研究中，三位经济学家，麻省理工学院的戴维·奥托尔 (David Autor)、苏黎世大学的戴维·多恩 (David Dorn)，以及加州大学圣迭哥分校的戈登·汉森(Gordon Hanson)，对我们的教育让我们所有人都相信是正确的理论提出了深刻的挑战，该理论认为一个经济体会从贸易冲击中迅速恢复过来。从理论上讲，像美国这样的工业发达国家，应该通过把劳动力转移到能在全球市场上竞争的更先进的产业来应对出口竞争。
They examined the experience of American workers after China erupted onto world markets some two decades ago. The presumed adjustment, they concluded, never happened. Or at least hasn’t happened yet. Wages remain low and unemployment high in the most affected local job markets. Nationally, there is no sign of offsetting job gains elsewhere in the economy. What’s more, they found that sagging wages in local labor markets exposed to Chinese competition reduced earnings by $213 per adult per year.
In another study they wrote with Daron Acemoglu and Brendan Price from M.I.T., they estimated that rising Chinese imports from 1999 to 2011 cost up to 2.4 million American jobs.
在另一份他们与麻省理工学院的达隆·阿齐默鲁(Daron Acemoglu)和布兰登·普莱斯(Brendan Price)合写的研究报告中，他们估计，1999年至2011年累计从中国进口商品的成本是高达240万美国人的就业机会。
“These results should cause us to rethink the short- and medium-run gains from trade,” they argued. “Having failed to anticipate how significant the dislocations from trade might be, it is incumbent on the literature to more convincingly estimate the gains from trade, such that the case for free trade is not based on the sway of theory alone, but on a foundation of evidence that illuminates who gains, who loses, by how much, and under what conditions.”
Global trade offers undeniable benefits. It helped pull hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty in a matter of a few decades, an unparalleled feat. It ensured Apple could benefit from China’s ample supply of cheap labor. Consumers around the world gained better-priced, better-made goods.
Still, though trade may be good for the country over all — after netting out winners and losers — the case for globalization based on the fact that it helps expand the economic pie by 3 percent becomes much weaker when it also changes the distribution of the slices by 50 percent, Mr. Autor argued. And that is especially true when the American political system has shown no interest in compensating those on the losing side.
The impact of China’s great leap into the market economy — which drew hundreds of millions of impoverished peasants into the manufacturing sector, mostly making goods for export to the United States and other wealthy nations — is waning. China’s wages are rising fast. Its exports and economy are slowing.
Trade with other parts of the world has not been as disruptive. For all the criticism of Nafta, most economists assess its impact on American workers as modest. Trade flows with Mexico were smaller and more balanced than those with China. American manufacturing employment remained fairly stable in the years after Nafta came into force in 1994, plummeting only after China entered the World Trade Organization in 2001 and gained consistent access to markets in the United States.
The Chinese export onslaught, however, left a scar on the American working class that has not healed. That disproportionate impact suggests Washington officialdom might do well to reassess its approach to future trade liberalization. Most important, it points to reconsidering how policy makers deal with trade’s distributional consequences.
It doesn’t mean walling off the United States from the rest of the world, but it does mean learning from the experience of other advanced nations that had a much healthier response to China’s rise.
Germany, for example, not only received a surge of Chinese imports, but also experienced an onslaught of imports from Eastern European countries after the collapse of the Soviet bloc. But it managed to maintain a more balanced trade because German manufacturers increased their exports to all these countries too, offsetting the job losses from import competition.
Mr. Autor suggests that Americans’ low savings rate was a big part of the story, coupled with foreigners’ appetite for accumulating dollar assets, which helped keep American interest rates low and the dollar strong, in that way fueling a persistent trade deficit.
But other factors were at work. Robert Gordon of Northwestern University suggested to me that Germany’s highly skilled workers were harder to replace with cheaper Chinese labor, limiting though not totally eliminating outsourcing. Germany’s stronger labor unions also put up more of a fight.
然而，也有其他因素在发挥作用。西北大学(Northwestern University)的罗伯特·戈登(Robert Gordon)对我说，德国的高技能工人比较难以用廉价的中国劳动力来替代，因此虽然没有彻底避免外包，却也限制了外包的规模。而且德国的工会也更强势，更善于坚持斗争。
Washington played its part, too. In their new book “Concrete Economics” (Harvard Business Review Press), Stephen S. Cohen and J. Bradford DeLong of the University of California, Berkeley suggest that ultimately, it was the fault of American policy choices.
华盛顿亦在其中扮演了角色。加州大学伯克利分校的史蒂芬·S·科恩(Stephen S. Cohen)和J·布拉德福特·德隆(J. Bradford DeLong)在新书《混凝土经济学》（Concrete Economics，哈佛商业评论出版社发行）中表示，究其根源，这要归咎于美国的政策选择。
The United States might have leaned against China’s export-led strategy, they argue, perhaps by insisting more forcefully that Beijing let its currency rise as its trade surplus swelled. It might have tried to foster the cutting-edge industries of the future, as government had done so many times before, encouraging the shift from textiles to jumbo jets and from toys to semiconductors.
What Washington did, instead, was hitch the nation’s future to housing and finance. But Wall Street, instead of spreading prosperity, delivered the worst recession the world had seen since the 1930s. Even at best, they write, the transformation of banking and finance has “produced nothing (or exceedingly little) of value.”
So where should policy makers go from here?
There are no easy answers. Tearing up existing trade agreements and retreating behind high tariff barriers — as Mr. Trump, and perhaps Mr. Sanders, would have it — would be immensely unproductive. It would throw a wrench into the works of a wobbly world economy. And reneging on international treaties would vastly complicate the international coordination needed to combat climate change.
But in any future trade liberalization — including the Obama’s administration’s pending Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, if it is to go forward at all — policy makers must be much more careful about managing the costs. Mr. Autor suggests any further deals to increase trade should be gradual, to give much more time for exposed companies and their workers to retool and shift into other jobs and sectors.
Perhaps most important, the new evidence from trade suggests American policy makers cannot continue to impose all the pain on the nation’s blue-collar workers if they are not going to provide a stronger safety net.
That might have been justified if the distributional costs of trade were indeed small and short-lived. But now that we know they are big and persistent, it looks unconscionable.