Robert J. Samuelson wrote in his May 15 op-ed, “Selling globalization short,” that current trade policy is defensible on the economics but not the politics. Yet the attempt to sever the two domains explains much of our current malaise. While net job loss from trade is not enormous as a share of the labor market, many of those displaced were in unions. As I documented in a recent Roosevelt Institute report, this number (and the social mobilization associated with it) more than accounts for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s losses in the key Midwestern states.
Labor-market institutions are a key ingredient of healthy democracies and equitable economies. If policy elites deem it necessary to approve tariff cuts, automation and other mechanisms that can destroy unions in import-competing sectors, adjustment assistance is only the beginning of what they should provide (and they haven’t provided that at scale). Rather, they should have used labor and industrial policy to bring about a comparable number of unionized jobs in non-tradable sectors. That this wasn’t even on the table helps explain much of populism’s lure.
Todd Tucker, Washington
The writer is a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.