MY BIG INSIGHT
Which I’m sure is not original with me, and doubtless bears the name of some 1920’s economist or social scientist — “Mannheimer’s Paradox” “Hoffa’s Conundrum” — but I don’t care, I think it’s really relevant. Here it is:
Imagine you are a labor leader and that, somehow, you have divine powers of prognostication. These powers tell you for a certainty that the TransPacific Partnership will, by generally boosting U.S. exports and the economy as a whole, add a million new good jobs over five years at the same time as it will cost a hundred thousand good jobs. Net gain: nine hundred thousand good jobs. What do you do?
It seems to me that you have little choice but to oppose the deal.
Because those million hired will be at best vaguely aware of the connection between the trade deal and their employment, whereas those hundred thousand fired will — understandably — be in great, vocal pain looking for someone to blame. And they will blame you. Better to have the first million remain unemployed, but no one blaming you. (Better still: blaming NAFTA.)
Now, obviously, neither you nor I have divine powers of prognostication. And it could conceivably be that any new trade deal the President signs off on will cost a million jobs and create only 100,000 (I will shortly argue why this makes no sense). But just before we get to that, I want to cement the point:
It’s completely plausible that if there were a trade deal that would, on balance, be greatly beneficial to American workers . . . (and to business owners and, for that matter, to others around the world, as it called for higher labor and environmental standards and imposed enforcement mechanisms that NAFTA lacked) . . . a rational labor leader who wanted to keep his job would oppose it. And that the progressive groups and politicians that (quite properly) generally support labor would not want to take the other side.
And so you could quite plausibly have the situation I think we have today: a trade deal that on balance will be a really important improvement to the status quo, good for America and its workers — as argued here a few weeks ago — but that finds labor and its allies largely opposed.
Why should we stick with NAFTA “as is” when the TransPacific Partnership (whose 12 nations will include Canada and Mexico) improves on its two most objectionable features: the non-enforceability of its labor and environmental protections?
Why should we stick with a situation where Fords and Chevy’s made in America face a 30% import duty in countries that allow those same Fords or Chevy’s — if made in Mexico — to enter duty free? How can that possibly help union members in Detroit?
One objection to the TPP (TransPacific Partnership) is the TPA (Trade Promotion Authority) — known as fast track. It’s all being done in secret, to be rushed through via an unprecedented abrogation of power by the President, apparently at the behest of his corporate overlords. (But wait? I thought he was a pro-labor community organizer?)
In fact, reported the New York Times a couple of months ago:
The bill would make any final trade agreement open to public comment for 60 days before the president signs it, and up to four months before Congress votes. If the agreement, negotiated by the United States trade representative, fails to meet the objectives laid out by Congress — on labor, environmental and human rights standards — a 60-vote majority in the Senate could shut off “fast-track” trade rules and open the deal to amendment.
“We got assurances that U.S.T.R. and the president will be negotiating within the parameters defined by Congress,” said Representative Dave Reichert, Republican of Washington and a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee. “And if those parameters are somehow or in some way violated during the negotiations, if we get a product that’s not adhering to the T.P.A. agreement, than we have switches where we can cut it off.”
To further sweeten the deal for Democrats, the package includes expanding trade adjustment assistance — aid to workers whose jobs are displaced by global trade — to service workers, not just manufacturing workers. Mr. Wyden also insisted on a four-year extension of a tax credit to help displaced workers purchase health insurance.
And as for being unprecedented? Every president since FDR, with the exception of Nixon, has been granted this authority.
Tomorrow: More Facts and Misconceptions (Or Maybe a Puppy Video: You Never Know.)