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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press NPR Stacks the Deck to Push Its Trade Agenda

NPR Stacks the Deck to Push Its Trade Agenda

Sunday, 31 October 2010 08:10

On Friday, Morning Edition featured a debate on trade between former Bush administration economist Mathew Slaughter and Thea Lee, an economist with the AFL-CIO. [Disclosure: Ms. Lee is a personal friend.] The discussion allowed Mr. Slaughter to have the last word, in which he proclaimed:

"One is most of the research to date that Thea cites has concluded that it's technology innovations of many kinds, that tend to favor demand for skilled workers that has put pressure on the wages of so many Americans.

So from a policy perspective, a question is, well, what do we want to do about that? Do you want to get rid of the computers that we've created over the past 30 or 40 years?"

Actually the economic research does not provide a compelling case that technology, rather than trade, has been the major factor driving inequality. The biggest rise in inequality between college and non-college educated workers occurred in the 80s, before the explosion of computerization and the uptick in productivity growth. In the 00s, there was no increase in the college-non-college pay gap. The only real gainers in that decade were workers with advance degree. This pattern in inequality is difficult to reconcile with a technology story.

Comments (12)Add Comment
Bring Back the Abacus to Close the Wage Gap
written by izzatzo, October 31, 2010 9:09
So from a policy perspective, a question is, well, what do we want to do about that? Do you want to get rid of the computers that we've created over the past 30 or 40 years?"

This has been an axiom of economics for many years as demonstrated by Milton Friedman. When shown crews of men on construction sites with shovels rather than machinery to prove that government stimulus spending worked, Friedman asked if that's the objective, why not use spoons instead.

Slaughter is correct. The reason wages are so low in the USA and the good jobs are overseas, is a flight from obsolescence to high technology.

There's not enough computers and shovels, and too many spoons and abacuses, due to socialist egalitarian policies advanced by stimulus hawks trying to close the wage gap.
written by purple, October 31, 2010 9:16
Many of NPR's listeners are now underemployed, so they are less likely to believe the free trade drivel. This is what happens when the ruling class decides it no longer needs to a bloated meritocracy.
written by skeptonomist, October 31, 2010 12:01
Income inequality started increasing well before the 80's by most measures:


The decrease in real wages of lower-end workers was greatest by far in the 70's:

written by DFlinchum, October 31, 2010 2:01
I heard that NPR program as well and was quite impressed with Ms Lee's answers. However, I remain stunned that the AFL-CIO, which has picked up smartly on the off-shoring/out-sourcing result: Loss of decent paying jobs for middle/working class US workers, is still as dumb as a box of rocks when it comes to the effect of massive immigration - legal & illegal - which is exactly the same:Loss of decent paying jobs for middle/working class US workers.

It is difficult for me to believe that the AFL-CIO can't see that handing out at least 75,000 work permits a month to legal immigrants and having 8.37 million U.S. jobs currently held by illegal workers (Pew Hispanic Center, April 2009) isn't just as detrimental to putting US workers back to work as outsourcing. This last number includes more than 7 million non-farm jobs. When there are 6 unemployed workers for each open job, the solution to putting people back to work isn't to import more workers. Why not stop handing out work permits for a while and see if that doesn't help?

Just this weekend, I read that since June 2009, the alleged end of the "Great Recession," foreign-born workers (both legal and illegal) have gained 656,000 jobs while 1.2 million native-born workers have lost jobs during this period of recovery. Hispanic Americans, are losing out on jobs to non-native Hispanic workers. Hispanic immigrants gained nearly 100,000 construction jobs from 2009 to 2010, but native-born Hispanic Americans lost 133,000 of those very same jobs. Unemployment in construction is about 20%.

What gives? Why does the AFL-CIO support amnesty and more immigration? Don't they keep up with the news these days?
Izzato, is Milton Friedman that dumb?
written by Mitchell Freedman, October 31, 2010 3:09
Actually, I know the answer. He was that dumb.

What work site was Milton Friedman at that was not using modern technology to assist the workers? Really, now. He poses a dumb question and then answers it with a glib remark about using spoons?

The truth is that a stimulus program that primarily dealt with restoring and rebuilding infrastructure would have been both salutary for the overall US economy, and would have been a political winner. Obama's plan to give money to bankers and hoping they would lend it out widely to private enterprises was as much a pipe dream as Reagan and Bush II giving out tax breaks to the economic elite and hoping they would use the extra money to promote internal development in the US. The bankers have paid back most of the money Bush II and Obama lent them, and they sit atop the money like the fat cats they are.
Everything old is new again.
written by Scott ffolliott, October 31, 2010 4:57
The organized effort of American industry to usurp government surpasses anything in modern history.From the use of psychology to spread truth has come the use of organized gathering of news to guide public opinion, then to deliberately mislead it by scientific advertising and propaganda. Mass capitalistic control of books and periodicals, news gathering and distribution, radio, cinema, and television has made the throttling of democracy possible and the distortion of education and failure of justice widespread. -W.E.B. DuBois 1953
written by JT, October 31, 2010 9:32
How does that jive with the research Tyler Cowen presented in the NY Times this morning? Technology has killed more jobs than trade has.
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blog bots are replacing native bloggers
written by frankenduf, November 01, 2010 12:16
lol skeptonomist :)- what a great ironic joke in the context of technology surpassing human labor skill
written by boxer, November 02, 2010 4:38
Seems the same crowd who wrecked the economy by busting unions took advantage of all the forced mobility of those "illegal" workers by slave waging them thus destroying the middle class. The unions don't want to demonize hard working people, no matter where they're from. They have families, hopes and dreams and were forced to move here to escape the WTO wrecked nations they used to call home. Shame on you cruel rich white men!
Gimme a break
written by DFlinchum, November 02, 2010 4:51
'The unions don't want to demonize hard working people, no matter where they're from.'

The unions have never had much of a problem 'demonizing' scabs, strike-breakers, and striker replacements no matter how hard-working they may be and FWIW I agree with them. I think the amnesty sentiment is among the leadership and largely absent among the rank and file who are the ones getting hurt.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.