America's Trade Policy of the Absurd

Jeff Faux says saving middle-class America will require a radically different conception of trade and the national interest.

For three decades, both Democratic and Republican administrations have been making trade deals with elites of other countries that favor the interests of multinational investors over the interests of American producers and workers. U.S.-based banks and corporations get access to cheap labor and to the financial systems of other nations. In return, U.S. workers are exposed to competition from countries where wages are suppressed (Mexico) or where government runs effective industrial policies (Germany) or both (China).

As a result, a chronic trade deficit has made us the world's largest debtor, undercut the bargaining power of the working middle class, and hollowed out U.S. manufacturing. Because our labor markets are integrated, the damage has spread to virtually every industry, occupation, and region. Real wages and benefits have stagnated even as the value of what Americans produce keeps rising. Two-tier wage systems, off-the-books employment, and disappearing pensions make the prospects for younger workers even worse.