Trade Agreements

TRADE AGREEMENTS….Jared Bernstein writes today about global trade deals that hurt (some) workers and tries to answer the $64,000 question: “What would you tell some guy who just lost his good, middle-class, union, high-wage and benefits job? What’s your program to help him?”

Here’s what I’d say to the guy in the question:

“We can’t stop globalization, but we can take its benefits and plough them back into repairing the damage it has done to you. That includes access to quality health care for you and your family, expanding and keeping your pension safe, and some serious retraining.

This will mean letting the Bush high-end tax cuts sunset (a point Obama agrees on — go, big O!) and using that revenue to help you. It will also mean major health care reform.

We’ll also work to behind the scenes to pushback on the downsides of trade. We’ll push the Fed to maintain truly tight labor markets, we’ll put enforceable labor standards in our trade deals, and we’ll pushback against countries that manage their currencies to keep our exports out.”

Roughly speaking, this sounds great. I don’t want to stop trade, which is fundamentally a good thing. I’d just like to make sure that we don’t have one group that gets all the benefits while another group pays all the price.

My only problem with Bernstein’s answer, then, is this: It’s more or less the same answer we’ve been hearing for the past 15 years. Unfortunately, in case after case, after we end up voting for trade agreements based on promises of relocation assistance, retraining, etc., everyone somehow loses interest in the promises. Republicans in particular, who still control 47% of the House and 49% of the Senate, simply refuse to consider this stuff.

So, free trade supporter or not, I’m increasingly of the view that I’d like to see us fulfill some of these promises first, and then pass the trade agreements afterward. We’ve tried it the other way around for a long time, and it doesn’t seem to work out so well.

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