Clin­ton’s trade prob­lem

Our view: Trump landed a hay­maker on Clin­ton when it comes to for­eign trade

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

Had the first pres­i­den­tial de­bate been a box­ing match, Hil­lary Clin­ton would not only have been com­fort­ably ahead on the judges’ score cards, she’d have been awarded a tech­ni­cal knock­out if the ref­eree had no­ticed her op­po­nent’s la­bored ar­gu­ments by the fi­nal round. But be­fore her sup­port­ers get too car­ried away cel­e­brat­ing, they would be wise to re­view the Demo­crat’s early per­for­mance, which was not cham­pi­onship cal­iber.

As well pre­pared as the for­mer sec­re­tary of state, sen­a­tor and first lady may have been on is­sues rang­ing from for­eign pol­icy to in­come in­equal­ity and po­lice-com­mu­nity re­la­tions, she seemed flum­moxed at the out­set when Don­ald Trump brought up for­eign trade deals like the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship. The is­sue came up in the con­text of job cre­ation, and Mr. Trump’s at­tack was a fa­mil­iar one — a claim that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and oth­ers be­fore him al­lowed vi­tal man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs to be ex­ported out of the coun­try.

“All you have to do is look at Michi­gan and look at Ohio and look at all of these places where so many of their jobs and their com­pa­nies are just leav­ing,” the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee growled. “They’re gone. And Hil­lary, I’ll ask you just this: You’ve been do­ing this for 30 years. What are you just think­ing about these so­lu­tions just now?”

This kind of flawed rea­son­ing should have been cor­rected by Ms. Clin­ton. Free trade is good for eco­nomic growth, not bad. That used to be a bedrock Repub­li­can be­lief. And many of the job losses cred­ited to agree­ments like NAFTA are jobs that would have left the coun­try any­way — if not to Mex­ico, then per­haps the Far East. That’s sim­ply the na­ture of a mod­ern global econ­omy as man­u­fac­tur­ers seek to lower costs, par­tic­u­larly us­ing low-wage la­bor.

The United States isn’t go­ing to beat the world in the low-wage la­bor mar­ket, nor should it. The U.S. has its own ad­van­tages in job growth, and they in­clude higher worker pro­duc­tiv­ity and bet­ter in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, trans­porta­tion net­works and ed­u­ca­tion. When the na­tion plays to those strengths it can cre­ate eco­nomic pow­er­houses like Google and Ap­ple. Set­ting up bar­ri­ers to for­eign trade to keep legacy man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs that no longer make eco­nomic sense only raises con­sumer costs, in­creases tar­iffs and sets off trade wars.

But that wasn’t Ms. Clin­ton’s re­sponse in the de­bate. In­stead, she de­nied sup­port­ing the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, claim­ing that her de­scrip­tion of it as a “gold stan­dard” of trade agree­ments was in the con­text of “hop­ing” it would be a good trade deal. That’s a bit of re­write of his­tory and made the Demo­crat ap­pear to have ca­su­ally flip-flopped on the TPP — and then lied about it.

The pol­i­tics are clear enough. Vot­ers in swing states like Ohio, Penn­syl­va­nia and Michi­gan where job losses over­seas are a big is­sue could de­cide this con­test. But the elec­torate at least needs a grown-up con­ver­sa­tion about trade. It cer­tainly isn’t get­ting one now — and prob­a­bly won’t given that nei­ther can­di­date sup­ports the TPP. Yet who­ever is elected in Novem­ber, the coun­try is go­ing to have to do some­thing about trade and par­tic­u­larly as it re­lates to China. Should Congress re­ject the TPP, U.S. eco­nomic in­flu­ence in the re­gion will wane — and that’s a prob­lem not only for the econ­omy but for na­tional se­cu­rity.

What the Demo­crat should be say­ing is that for­eign trade is a rel­a­tively small com­po­nent of the econ­omy and that those jobs that have been lost over­seas over the last 30 years aren’t com­ing back. What the na­tion needs to do now is fo­cus on cre­at­ing good-pay­ing jobs, not by erect­ing trade bar­ri­ers but by tak­ing steps to en­cour­age growth — in­vest more in pub­lic in­fra­struc­ture, nur­ture small busi­nesses, en­cour­age in­no­va­tion, pro­vide more job train­ing and im­prove ac­cess to cap­i­tal. What you don’t do is re­write the tax code to pro­vide a $1 tril­lion handout to the wealthy, which is what Mr. Trump has pro­posed.

Ms. Clin­ton doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily have to de­fend 22-year-old trade agree­ments as if this was1992 and she was run­ning against Ross Perot. She needs to con­vince the pub­lic that she has bet­ter ideas about cre­at­ing jobs right here and right now. That didn’t come across Mon­day night, and it needs to be re­vis­ited when the two can­di­dates meet again Oct. 9 in St. Louis.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.