by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
When President Trump campaigned to “make America great again,” I immediately thought of my stapler.
I am the proud owner a vintage Swingline stapler, manufactured circa 1960. It is as reliable today as when it rolled off the assembly line in Long Island City, Queens, N.Y., before I was born.
At my office, we have a more recent Swingline — or have had several, as the plastic versions often jam, break, and are replaced. The office stapler was made in China. The Long Island City factory that made my vintage model moved to Mexico in 1999, abetted by NAFTA. It left 450 jobs behind.
President Trump tapped into a feeling that many Americans have: a sense that the quality of American material culture has notably declined due to globalization. Many of us feel keenly that, while we used to produce and use high-quality products, we now consume cheap goods made in China and shipped to Walmart. Trump recognized this sentiment as the downside of globalization, and it won him the 2016 election. …
… Today, Americans who need to staple things are better off with the new, China-made plastic Swinglines – just as Americans in the 1890s were better off with lightbulbs than with gas lamps. Sure, the new staplers may only last half as long, but if they are more than 50 percent cheaper, we get more staples per dollar. And the aggregate impact of changes like this on the American economy, and on American income, are positive. Even workers are better off — albeit living in Mexico and China rather than in America.
But then, as now, the aggregate statistics don’t tell the whole story. There were winners and losers in 19th century nationalization as there are in 21st century globalization. It’s hard to reconcile the Nebraskan country boy William Jennings Bryan with urban mogul Donald Trump. But Trump has inherited Bryan’s mantle — and, at least thus far, has done so far more successfully.