by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Kevin Willianson‘s latest column at National Review Online puts Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s knowledge about trade to the test.
A great deal of Donald Trump’s silly and illiterate trade talk presupposes the gutting or repeal of NAFTA, the trade accord between the United States, Canada, and Mexico that went into effect in 1994, with his dreams of punitive sanctions and blockades. Indeed, NAFTA is a favorite whipping boy for populists Left and Right, a reminder that populist conservatives have much more in common with populist progressives such as Senator Bernie Sanders than they do with the political tendency that connects Adam Smith to F. A. Hayek and Ronald Reagan.
Trump fancies himself an ace negotiator, a skill that he has had some chance to hone in an embarrassing series of corporate bankruptcies, and he proposes to employ those skills to ensure trade that is “fair” by whatever ethical standards occur to this particular serial adulterer/crony capitalist/pathological liar/reality-television grotesque. While Trump himself is fundamentally unserious, the Right has witnessed a destructive reemergence of the old anti-trade populism articulated by Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot. …
… Trade is one of those issues about which the strength of people’s opinions tends to be the converse of their level of knowledge. With that in mind, it is worth revisiting a few facts. U.S. manufacturing has not been undermined by NAFTA. In real (inflation-adjusted) terms,
U.S. manufacturing output today is about 68 percent higher than it was before NAFTA came into effect. Real manufacturing output today is nearly twice what it was in 1987, when NAFTA’s predecessor, the Canada–U.S. Free Trade Agreement, was negotiated. Manufacturing output per man-hour has skyrocketed as investments in information technology and automation pay off, which is the main reason a smaller share of the work force is employed in manufacturing even as output continues its steady climb. Fewer people work in our factories today because we’ve gotten better at running them.