Free Trade Smokescreen

In all of the current presidential candidates’ stump speeches, there is a large part that is devoted to demonizing free trade. Democratic nominee loser Bernie Sanders and the Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump have made opposition to virtually all trade agreements a cornerstone of their campaigns.

Hillary ClintoHilary smilen is smarter than that, but she is a savvy politician and she knows which way the wind is blowing. If she had allowed Sanders to demonize her on that front, she might even have lost the Democratic primary. And she certainly will lose the general election if she is honest about how she feels. She called TPP (the Trans-Pacific Partnership) the “gold standard” of trade agreements, and I think that she still believes that. Having said that, though, Hillary gets a bad rap for dishonesty. She has been vetted by PolitiFact and found to be the most honest candidate in the race.

So much for all the garbage thrown at her by the right and regurgitated by Sanders followers.

The fact of the matter is that trade is a bogeyman. A straw argument that hints at a simple solution to a complex problem. It’s possible that there could be some jobs saved were it not for free trade. But those would be only temporary. And as much as the populist right and left like to scream about saving the middle class, how would the middle class feel about paying three or four times more for their clothing and other consumer goods. That would happen if they were produced by American labor earning a minimum $15.00/hr. wage, and even more if you throw in union protection and benefits.

The most significant factor in the erosion of good-paying jobs in the manufacturing sector has been technology. In fact, technology is even displacing relatively low-paying jobs in China and in other emerging economies. And for all of Sanders’ gas-bagging about the gap between the world’s rich and poor, how would that gap be affected by foreign workers losing their meager jobs to well-paid American workers? Sounds like another disguised version of Trump’s America First agenda.

Technology is, and always has been, a double-edged sword. It is values-neutral and always has been. Technology follows the money, and usually ends up supporting the many at the expense of the relatively few. For example, the automobile has enabled the world to enjoy a standard of mobility that could scarcely have been imagined in the horse-and-buggy days. But people die in car crashes. Ditto airplane crashes. I don’t fly, period. I took a flight to Holland back in 1992 and felt like a sardine in a can, and it’s only gotten worse since then. And of course, you have the socially inept cell phone users, as well as the deadly ones behind the wheel.

All technological advances have pitfalls, but money has no soul. Business has no heart. It never has, and it never will. There will always be bottom-feeding politicians selling phony solutions. It’s up to the voters to see through the smoke.

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