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Only voters in a coma are unaware that Donald Trump’s lies and policy slightness dwarf Hillary Clinton’s shortcomings. (I know, I know: the fact that Trump has gotten this far shows many voters are comatose this year.) But in the interest of fairness, let’s point out one area from Monday’s debate in which they both stumbled: the claim that resurrecting manufacturing is doable, and necessary, for American prosperity.
“You look at what China’s doing to our country in terms of making our product,” Trump said, damning trade deals and trading partners that he said are “stealing our companies” from former manufacturing strongholds like Michigan and Ohio. He doubled down on his promise to drop, Bugs Bunny-like, the anvil of a punishing tariff on those job-stealing Yosemite Sams in China and Mexico — even though trade is only one culprit in American manufacturing jobs’ decline.
Clinton, less flamboyant (and less prone to talk over her opponent than Trump was), nevertheless promised to grow “jobs in advanced manufacturing” and repeated her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal — which, as Trump reminded viewers, she’d praised initially.
Candidates shouldn’t encourage voters’ impossible dreams ... manufacturing ain’t coming back in any big way.
Candidates shouldn’t encourage voters’ impossible dreams, and experts offer tough love on this one: manufacturing ain’t coming back in any big way.
It’s true that in China, Trump has a convenient boogeyman. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the People’s Republic surpassed us as the globe’s top manufacturer six years ago. Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman estimates that eliminating our trade deficit in manufacturing with that nation would net us two million jobs. When I was a kid in the 1960s, more than a quarter of the U.S. workforce labored in manufacturing; today, that has shrunk to one tenth.
Unfortunately for Trump and Clinton, the CRS noted something else: “Employment in manufacturing has fallen in most major manufacturing countries over the past quarter-century. In the United States, manufacturing employment since 1990 has declined in line with the changes in Western Europe and Japan …” Something is going on, and another Nobel-laureate economist, Joseph Stiglitz, told The New York Times what it is:
“The observation is uncontroversial. Global employment in manufacturing is going down because productivity increases” — increases in output per worker hour — ”are exceeding increases in demand for manufactured products by a significant amount.” In other words, manufacturers are making more stuff than people are buying, everywhere. For what it’s worth, even China’s industrial exporting is providing its workers with lower incomes than manufacturing earned for workers in other Asian nations, The Times reported.
We’d create any millions of jobs more, short-term and long-, with smarter ideas...
Oh, and those two million jobs we’d gain by erasing our trade deficit with China? Krugman says that would raise manufacturing’s piece of the American workforce by a piddling 1.5 percent. The supposedly glorious future of manufacturing would be like a rebound partner after your life’s love dumps you: a big letdown in comparison to the original.
We’d create any millions of jobs more, short-term and long-, with smarter ideas, such as giving our public works the rehab they desperately need and extending higher education and the earnings boost it confers to more Americans. Both presidential candidates support the former, though one offers greater specificity. (Guess who?) On the latter, Trump is largely mum, while Clinton has a plan for debt-free college.
Those are the issues on which debate moderators should press the candidates, and by which voters should judge them. As for chasing the chimera of manufacturing, magic wand-waving is better suited to Harry Potter and his world than to the leader of the free world.
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