The Bridge is Back
And while we may be free, Trade, very rarely is. We will concede the point, “Free Trade” provides cheaper goods. However, when those cheap goods come at the expense of your economic security, your job, your work safety or your standards in quality and health, do you really have a choice, or are you really just being funneled, like our grandparents, to buy from the coal mine’s company store? If you can’t afford anything but those cheap goods, are they really that cheap?
Globalization did not come overnight, but there is no question that it is upon us now. We do not posture ourselves as authorities on the complexities of our ever more interconnected world—the partnerships, the alliances, and the trade agreements. However, it doesn’t take a virtuoso to understand that the political rhetoric surrounding Free Trade is empty. Nothing but hollow sound-bites put out as emotional tugs attempting, more sincerely, to manipulate the population than to educate them.
Jobs Jobs Jobs. We are the party of the Working Class. We are for business! Joe the plumber! Cheryl, the single mother working at Wall-Mart. It’s regulation! It’s globalization! It’s immigrants! It’s automation! It’s unions, or lack-there-of! It’s more free trade! It’s less free trade! One side says one thing, the other side says the opposite, or vice versa, and in the confusion, the people in the middle get left hung on the line, baking in the summer heat (not a exceptional summer heat of course, just the abnormal heating due to natural processes—disencumbered from human activity).
The world of the fifties is gone, and it can never be as it was. The world is smaller, faster, and more connected than anyone in Pleasantville could have ever imagined. And yet, the more we go around in circles with vacuous discourse, the less likely it is that we will rise to the occasion upon us: how do we move forward, together, into this ever more connected world. How can we alleviate the pain felt by those who will feel the growing pains the most, those at greatest risk of being left behind, and those, for whom it will be most difficult to adapt. And how can we ensure decent and equally opportunities in the social/economic structure that is not only coming, but is in many ways, already here.
Ground Rule today: let’s agree, right now, in order to put a check on the manipulation of the conversation, that there are no sound-bite solutions to this global trade game. The way forward will take hard, honest, decisions, not short anecdotes or simple scapegoats.
Jobs are important, we get it! We are a generation of youth getting their feet wet in a post 2008 job market, high in debt and low in opportunities. Manufacturing jobs shipped overseas and unlike our parents, unable to build a family, save for retirement or climb the “ladder,” without a college degree. With that, unfortunately, a discussion around free trade that centers solely on jobs misses so much. Without understanding globalization and the economics of a ruling class, most trade agreements are actually more harmful than helpful. These partnerships, among other things, don’t simply discuss taxes, they dictate Intellectual property rights, customs standards, copyright laws, terms of labor rights, environmental protections, product transparency, labeling standards, financial regulations, and dispute settlement procedures. The left has consistently watched Democrats ignore the whole picture for at least the past twenty years. The american people, and the world, deserve a more honest and open conversation on the matter.
The past two decades have been filled with backhanded compliments from both the left and right. Everyone chants “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” and really means “Money, Money, Money,” not for workers, of course, but for the international corporate juggernauts. What we want is simple. We want to have a conversation that asks, who really benefits from Free Trade? There is plenty of credible academic literature and investigative reporting that objectively illustrates who the largest beneficiary is from free trade: Multinational Corporations. Companies that move their headquarters to Ireland to pay less taxes, the same companies that flood DC with lobbyists, the same companies that don't let their employees unionize, the same companies that hire two part time employees instead of one full time employee to avoid giving benefits. So how exactly does free trade help them? Often, free trade keeps governments from holding corporations accountable. If they don’t like the regulations in one country, they move to another and yet still pay nothing to reach consumers in either market. We lose Jobs, benefits, and security, while they gain profits and then use those profits to lobby for free trade agreements that give them more power—public excluded obviously.
“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”― Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
Young liberals continually point out free trade’s affinity for exploitation of both people and their resources. Millennials are the most ethnically diverse generation, and with that comes a worldview that is unsurprisingly global in scope. If we haven’t traveled ourselves, our parents or grandparents have come from regions of the world that have been the loser in globalization. These experiences must matter to us and shape that worldview.
Just as HRC talked of getting money out of politics, she still accepted big donor money for her campaign. Obama promised the most transparent administration, and yet led an egregious offensive against journalists and whistleblowers. If standing up for international workers rights is a test for how hard they will fight to defend domestic labor, then we have plenty of reasons to worry. Clinton (Bill) signed NAFTA in 1993, and the TPP was set to be one of Obama's lasting legacies. Let's be honest, we have no clue what the Democrats' position is regarding “Free Trade.” What we do know, and are fed up with, is that they will choose their political stance depending on which option is most advantageous to them at that time.
Economics isn’t a science, it's a social science! The “laws” and assumptions that govern the economics referenced by politicians are not focused on the American Working Class. Does the stock market recovery show the hardships many americans still endure? Does the GDP? Do trade surpluses or deficits? Even unemployment doesn’t account for people who are underemployed (working jobs they are overqualified for) or those that stopped working early.
Liberal politicians across the board need to develop a backbone, follow the morals, and fight for economics that work for the American working class. Free Trade, as it stands now, is a failed trade. Fair Trade agreements are how the left must move forward. Protect workers' safety everywhere and companies won’t move manufacturing to “less regulated” countries. Protect the environment and companies won’t leave to escape pollution regulations. Protect worker wages and companies won’t need to relocate to pay someone pennies on the dollar. Globalization does not have to be an all out assault on labor and the environment. Rather than pitting workers against each other in a race to the bottom, the way to benefit American workers is to benefit all working class people.
“You want to know the benefits of free trade? Food is cheaper. Food is cheaper! Clothes are cheaper. Steel is cheaper. Cars are cheaper. Phone service is cheaper. You feel me building a rhythm here? That's because I'm a speech writer - I know how to make a point. It lowers prices, it raises income. You see what I did with 'lowers' and 'raises' there? It's called the science of listener attention. We did repetition, we did floating opposites, and now you end with the one that's not like the others. Ready? Free trade stops wars. Heh, and that's it. Free trade stops wars! And we figure out a way to fix the rest.” - Toby Ziegler, The West Wing
Blaming immigrants, blaming mexico, blaming China, blaming “bad deals”, blaming free trade. Donald trump seemed to blame everyone and everything for the loss of American manufacturing jobs, and made the dubious claim that he would bring them back. He won’t. He can’t. And frankly, he shouldn’t try. Those old economy jobs are gone, more will continue to leave, and free trade is not the enemy. The focus now needs to be on new jobs, new training, and a renewed commitment to the global economy.
Trump’s near- constant talk of bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States is no doubt in large part responsible for the newfound redness of the Rust Belt. One of the ways Trump claimed that he would be bringing these jobs back would be to re-negotiate trade deals, and while making these claims he frequently demonized free trade.
I will be the first to admit that NAFTA hasn’t been as successful as initially envisioned. The rate of increase of trade between the United States and Mexico has climbed since the deal was signed, but not at a rate higher than it grew pre- NAFTA. Additionally, the collective bargaining clauses in Mexico’s part of the deal are rarely enforced (and may even be legitimately unenforceable) which does make American workers less competitive when it comes to North American Labor. All that said, free trade is not as dangerous to the American economy as Trump and his ilk would have you believe. Increased automation and the rock- bottom cost of labor in the developing world have a far greater effect, regardless of the existence of trade deals.
In fact, the United States needs free trade. With only 4% of the world’s population, yet roughly 25% of the world’s wealth, the United States needs trading partners. We need somebody to sell our goods to. This will be especially important in the future, as American companies make great strides in solar and wind technologies, and new players on the world stage will be increasingly interested in purchasing those technologies. Not to mention the economic soft power that the United States can wield once these deals are signed. Do we want to encourage China to stop using child labor or to start getting serious on human rights issues? Write it into a trade deal. Say that we won’t buy products made by children or mistreated, criminally underpaid laborers. This has the added benefit of raising wages in the developing world thus making American workers more competitive.
This needs to be the focus of the Trump administration- keeping American labor competitive, and investing in green energy, new manufacturing, and the new economy. His insistence on propping up the coal and oil industries is asinine, especially considering that solar is providing more new jobs than either of these industries. Trump is pandering to money and entrenched power and intentionally misleading the public in the process. The United States has the opportunity to be a global leader, yet I feel that we may be slipping, and this President is not going to slow the descent.
Rust Belt: Moving Forward
Ian Vanness & Christen Corcoran
The Rust belt was once the symbol of the American dream. After the industries left, political rhetoric used its story as a cautionary tale of how that dream was broken. Today it remains an Electoral enigma.
Trump is tackling this conundrum by reversing the longstanding precedent of conservatives’ endorsement on free trade agreements. It was a plan that allowed him to monopolize the frustrations of disaffected voters. The bleak imagery he invoked rang true: “Rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation.” He convinced the region that supporting a protectionist stance towards free trade was a mechanism to combat their disparity. The Rust belt is desperate, however, many of the proposed solutions would require bipartisan cooperation--not today’s political strong-suit. Trump, not one to shy away from a handy marketing slogan, wants to bring back American industries. However, given the current state of economic policies and the international division of labor, it would be almost impossible to return the U.S. Midwest to its glory days as a manufacturing powerhouse.
As for the Rust belt’s millennials, well full disclosure, we’re both proud Ohioans. Reagan conservatives, Tea Partiers, and Trump supporters are not simply anonymous faces in the backdrop of a ‘Make America Great Again’ rally, they are our family, friends, and neighbors. We are not here to explain how overnight an expanding middle class lost nearly half a million jobs. Instead of showing images of the Midwest-that-once-was, we are looking at how the marginalization of the Rust belt has allowed politicians to prescribe unviable, and often reductive solutions, that manipulate feelings, while discouraging facts. Simply put, when any population is provided few economic opportunities due to political partisanship and gridlock, we are all responsible for the fallout that ensues.
Disaffected working class voters were conned into believing that destroying past trade agreements would alter their economic realities. The debate between free trade and protectionist policies holds real outcomes. Yet, the truth is, neither addresses the current problems that globalization has already created in middle America. Situating U.S. manufacturing to absorb 21st century opportunities, while simultaneously bolstering our service economy for a highly educated millennial population is where the focus should be. Both avenues lead to the same destination, yet they are often pitted against each other as a battle between classes. Potential remedies for repositioning our manufacturing industry discuss the importance of apprenticeship programs, encouraging private-public collaboration, and how to increase overall wages. These proposals are often missing from the conversation, because they require more explaining. Instead, politicians and owners of the means of production want us to believe it’s not our fault. It’s their fault-- the immigrants, greedy unions, or policies of the opposing party. Fortunately, our generation's curious nature has encouraged us to look beyond our borders for answers. We are beginning to ask why other countries’ working classes have more mobility and opportunities? The more options we discuss together, the less time wasted finding culprits to blame.
Partisanship cannot deny that when college educated Ohioans must choose between working as a Speedway cashier or relocating in order to better utilize their degree, we are not harvesting our human capital to its maximum yield. For one, millennials haven't been educated and brought up in a manufacturing world. We are told from a young age that in order to have a future, we must get an education. In fact, we are the most educated generation that has ever existed. “When the baby boomers were young, a college education wasn't as critical to a middle-class lifestyle”, but this has changed. Our skills reside in technology, communications and customer service-- high skilled labor. We are not going to university to get manufacturing jobs that just are not there. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics between 1996-2016 manufacturing jobs in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin declined by 30%, while jobs in health and education services increased by 43%.
Recent graduates, especially those of us who graduated during the Great Recession, contemplate leaving the region in search of better opportunities. To be honest, we both did. Rust belt states have been experiencing a brain drain on their economies, and grappling with how to best rebrand their reputations. The exodus of college educated millennials, who are often more liberal leaning, exacerbates the national trend of political segregation. Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and other cities have discovered new opportunities in various technologies. Recently, Ohio Governor Kasich flirted with the idea of renaming the Columbus-area the “Knowledge Belt”. These are all steps in the right direction, but only target the college educated. A more honest conversation about what a manufacturing career would look like in the 21st century is needed. Everyone needs to be focusing on the future of the Rust belt, not bringing it back to the past.
The physical landscape created by the exodus of industries has impacted our collective identity. We are nostalgic for a time when workers’ dedication was compensated with livable wages and dependable pensions. We use to produce steel, cars, and appliances, but now we manufacture broken families, addicts, and felons. Our votes helped facilitate the mess we resent. We willfully accept a system that in one instance destroyed the foundation of our livelihoods, and in the next, pushes us towards professions that service the fallout. The defeat that resides in old factories reflects our inability to take control of our future. Demanding politicians speak to solutions that address our skillset, will not only help our economic woes, it will help rehabilitate our broken society. The capacity to swing a presidential election is a hell of a bargaining chip. With regained focus, and realized worth, we can rediscover empowerment needed to avoid taking the proverbial bait --They took your jobs, and I’ll bring them back!