by Joseph Joyce
The People’s Verdict on Globalization
The similarities in the electoral appeals of businessman Donald Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders have been widely noted (see, for example, here, here and here). Both men attract voters who feel trapped in their economic status, unable to make progress either for themselves or their children. Moreover, both men have assigned the blame for the loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. on international trade agreements. Regardless of who wins the election, globalization, which was seen as a irresistible force in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the entry of China into the world economy, is now being reexamined and found to be detrimental in the eyes of many.
Trump and Sanders have been particularly vociferous about the North American Trade Agreement, which they hold responsible for the migration of U.S. jobs to Mexico. But those who blame the foreign sector for a loss of jobs should also finger capital flows. The investment of U.S. firms in overseas facilities that then ship their products back to the U.S. represents outward foreign direct investment (FDI), and thus in this story is also responsible for the disappearance of manufacturing jobs. Moreover, Lawrence Summers of Harvard has pointed out that firms that have the option to relocate will be less inclined to invest in new capital in their home country, which leads to lower productivity and wages for their workers.
Whether technology or trade is more responsible for the shrinkage in manufacturing jobs has been the subject of much study (see, for example, here). In the past, most studies assigned the primary role for labor force disruption to technology. David Autor of MIT, Lawrence F. Katz of Harvard and Melissa S. Kearney of the University of Maryland, for example, drew attention to technology that accomplishes routine tasks without human intervention and leads to a polarization of the labor force, as middle-skill level jobs are eliminated, leaving only low-skill and high-skill jobs. In addition, information technology that allows firms to coordinate their facilities in different countries allows more outsourcing and reallocation of plants.
Those who seek to defend global trade flows cite rises in employment due to exports and alsogains due to increases in efficiency and economics of scale that accompany specialization. In addition, lower prices due to imports raise real incomes. No one denies that increased imports can disrupt labor markets, but this has viewed as a transitional cost that could be absorbed.