Trade policy stories

by Dan Crawford

Stormy asks in an e-mail: At one time, I thought America was supposed to lead the way in green technology, providing jobs for Americans…and sends this quote from the Washington Post.

The last major GE factory making ordinary incandescent light bulbs in the United States is closing this month…

What made the plant here vulnerable is, in part, a 2007 energy conservation measure passed by Congress that set standards essentially banning ordinary incandescents by 2014. The law will force millions of American households to switch to more efficient bulbs.

The resulting savings in energy and greenhouse-gas emissions are expected to be immense. But the move also had unintended consequences.

Rather than setting off a boom in the U.S. manufacture of replacement lights, the leading replacement lights are compact fluorescents, or CFLs, which are made almost entirely overseas, mostly in China.

Well, let’s see. The article seems to imply a whole story- Environmental concerns pushed closings and lost American jobs, which was not forseen, and those awful Chinese somehow wound up with the manufacturing.

The IBEW notice adds a bit to the story:

The news stunned Lexington Local 1627 Business Manager David Butcher, who represents 114 workers at the plant. “I knew there was trouble but that was the last thing I expected to hear,” he said.

That local had recently negotiated an agreement with the company to help reduce costs by agreeing to a wage freeze and flexible overtime regulations, hoping to buy more time so GE could update its facilities to be more competitive.

And then this article points to our responses on trade. It describes the next generation after flourescent technology of lighting using LED technology.

The Federal government either has no role to play in trade policy to benefit its own citizens according to free trade enthusiasts, or possibly is only part of a short term ‘stimulus’ package for green technology. Bottom line decisions on how and where to do business are global in nature without regard to your role as a citizen. Admired from afar it all looks good, but how do you voice a concern for where you belong.

As indicated in the article the role of suggesting incentives has been traditionally a function of municiple and state governments, leaving individual trade agreements with countries to the federal government.

Pay special attention to the notion that the national government of China is offering help to locate a manufacturing site in Mexico with the help of the national Mexican government. And that the current employees to manufacture new light bulbs are drawn from former government employees (NASA).

The national narrative on trade bears little resemblance to the reality of doing business from this point of view. When listening to speeches it is best to keep this in mind.