Tom Gibson Tom Gibson, 3/29/2011 [Archive]

The 20-year Sellout of the American Worker

By Tom Gibson

Most nations try to avoid running trade deficits because those that do lose jobs.

Why, then, for the last 20 years has the United States run a persistent, growing deficit that has destroyed more than 9 million jobs?

The story begins when President Bill Clinton, promising expanding markets and more jobs, pushed our country into the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1992 and the World Trade Organization in 1995.

After that, the power to make decisions on trade and employment began to shift dramatically to the multinational companies and to our political leaders in Washington whose influence they were able to buy.

The primary interest of the multinationals is in the success of their own enterprises rather than that of a particular country, even their host country.

So because NAFTA and the WTO abolished U.S. trade laws and tariffs that had been put in place over the years to insure we didn't import more than we exported, the multinationals were free to begin their long and steady effort to move their manufacturing to the countries with the lowest wages.

The great 'sucking' sound, predicted by Ross Perot in his attack on NAFTA during the 1992 presidential campaign, began to be heard across our country as factories were abandoned and jobs sucked out.

Our four largest trading partners are China, Canada, Mexico and Japan.

From 1990 to 2010, our trade deficit with China grew from $10 billion to $252 billion. In 2010, alone, it increased by 26 percent.

With Canada, it grew from $8 billion to $24 billion; with Mexico, from $2 billion to $62 billion; and with Japan, it jumped from $41 billion to $54 billion.

Bill Clinton's promises of expanding markets and more jobs were met with losses.

The earlier losses were for established consumer products like automobiles, appliances, furniture and television sets. Today the competition is growing for more sophisticated products like aircraft and the green jobs of the future.

Several years ago, China required Boeing to transfer its manufacturing technology to China as a condition for buying Boeing's planes. Now China is set to introduce a new plane intended to compete with Boeing's 727.

China has declared it wants to be the world leader in wind power and solar power and is using government subsidies and local-content rules to encourage General Electric and other American and European manufacturers to move their factories to China.

It wasn't preordained that global business should evolve the way it has.

Twenty years ago, the U.S. presented the most lucrative market for consumer and industrial products in the world — every major country wanted to sell us its goods. With this leverage, our political leaders in Washington had the opportunity to set the ground rules, to establish a balanced-trade model for the world that could benefit American manufacturers and workers alike: Yes, you may sell into our markets, but in return, you must allow us to sell into your markets in a roughly equivalent way.

Our political leaders failed us. They sold us out to the multinationals in our country and other countries and allowed the free-trade, deficit-trade model that has destroyed our jobs and wrecked our economy to become the norm.

The leaders of the multinationals and our political leaders in Washington have won. The American worker has lost.

Will there be a political leader in 2012 who can resist the payoffs by the multinationals and start trying to rewrite the ground rules?

Tom Gibson is a retired marketing manager from the DuPont Company. Contact Tom at tcolemangibson@yahoo.com.

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.




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