Washington Post Continues Myth that Trade Has Not Hurt Manufacturing Workers

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Wednesday, 01 May 2013 07:22

The Washington Post is one of the most ardent supporters of the policy of selective protectionism. This policy is designed to redistribute income upward by deliberately putting less educated workers in direct competition with low-paid workers in the developing world, while maintaining or increasing protectionist barriers that prevent highly educated professionals like doctors and lawyers from facing the same sort of competition. The predicted and actual result of this policy has been to redistribute income upward to the protected class.

In order to advance this agenda the Post routinely publishes pieces that attempt to conceal the extent to which the current pattern of trade has hurt manufacturing workers and the whole segment of the labor force that might compete with these workers for jobs. Today it gives readers a segment "dispelling myths about manufacturing." Myth # 2 is:

"Trade and offshoring drove the decline in manufacturing in the U.S."

The piece then tells us the real culprit is productivity growth, not trade. It blames the rapid productivity growth of the years 2000-2010 for the loss of more than 5.5 million manufacturing jobs over the period.

The data suggest a different story. Productivity growth in manufacturing is not new. The 3.3 percent annual rate of growth over this period was impressive, but it's not hugely different from the 2.7 percent rate the country experienced from 1950 to 1979. In that period manufacturing employment increased by 30.6 percent, from 14.8 million to 19.3 million.

The modest difference in productivity growth in these two periods explains only a tiny portion of the difference in employment outcomes. The fact that the United States had a surplus in trade in manufacturing items throughout the first period, while it saw huge growth in its trade deficit in the second period, explains far more of the difference in outcomes.