In a very self-serving article in Foreign Affairs by US Trade Representative Robert E Lighthizer (I’m actually a little surprised it was published, but with the loss of Secretaries Mattis and Tillerson, Messers Lighthizer and Mnuchin are just about the only adult voices left in the Trump administration and a journal like Foreign Affairs needs to hear those voices) he sets out the philosophy behind the Trump trade regime.
While I do take issue with Mr Lighthizer’s thesis and his defence of the Trump administration’s logic, I will concede all of his points on the basis that it is a thesis … and there is an antithesis and, eventually, one hopes, a synthesis.
But, yesterday I talked about education and jobs and immigration and Robert Lighthizer makes a couple of hugely important points:
- “Those obsessed with efficiency,” he says, “tend to see employment simply as a means of allocating resources and ensuring production. In so doing, they greatly undervalue the personal dignity that individuals derive from meaningful work … [because] … Doing honest work for a decent wage instills feelings of self-worth that come from being needed and contributing to society. Stable, remunerative employment reinforces good habits and discourages bad ones. That makes human beings better spouses, parents, neighbors, and citizens. By contrast, the loss of personal dignity that comes from the absence of stable, well-paying employment is not something that can be compensated for either by increased consumption of low-cost imported goods or by welfare checks;” and
- Additionally, he says, “Academic theory also cannot hide the basic fact that if a country imports goods it could produce domestically, then domestic spending is employing people abroad rather than at home. This tradeoff might be worth it if it frees up workers to move to more productive, higher-paying jobs. It might make sense, too, if reciprocal agreements for market access create new export-related jobs that replace those lost to competition from cheaper imports. But persistent trade deficits should, at the very least, cause policymakers to question the tradeoff and inquire as to the reasons behind the imbalance.“
He gets no argument from me on either point; nor should he from any real Conservative. Real Conservatives ought to be free-traders, but they should not put the needs of their own country, for good jobs, behind the needs of trading partners ~ cheap coffee makers are not the goal of human society.
Then, as if to counter John Ibbiton’s points about importing STEM brainpower, he says, and I agree fully, that “The technology sector, for all its virtues, simply is not a source of high-paying jobs for working people. Over half of the United States’ roughly 250 million adults lack a college diploma. Historically, manufacturing jobs have been the best source of stable, well-paying employment for this cohort. Perhaps with massive new investments in education, former autoworkers could be taught to code. But even so, there probably wouldn’t be enough jobs to employ them all. Apple, Facebook, Google, and Netflix collectively employ just over 300,000 people—less than half the number that General Motors alone employed in the 1960s.“
Mt Lighthizer concludes the defence of his trade views ~ they are far too complex to have come from Donald J Trump who is an economic simpleton ~ by saying, correctly, in my opinion, that “most Americans want the same thing: balanced outcomes that keep trade flows strong while ensuring that working people have access to steady, well-paying jobs. Neither old-school protectionism nor unbridled globalism will achieve that. Instead, as the United States confronts future trade challenges, it should chart a sensible middle course—one that, at long last, prizes the dignity of work.“
The dignity of work is something I have discussed before, several times, in fact; Dr Arthur C Brooks, a noted conservative scholar, called the main problem facing North American (indeed all of Western) society the “dignity deficit.” The gold-standard for society is the sort of economy that provides jobs for the top, middle and lower (working) classes. That, however crudely, is what Robert E Lighthizer wants for America.
Jobs for working-class Canadians, especially the precariat, is what responsible Canadian political leaders …
… need to be discussing, not Wexit and not who will or will not cancel the carbon tax. While Conservatives need to bang away at the neverending Trudau ethical scandals and the unsustainable Trudeau-Morneau deficits, they also need to tell Canadians that they, like Robert Lighthizer, have a plan to do something FOR Canadians … Conservatives can’t just be against Justin Trudeau, that will not win the next election because 30% of Canadians simply don’t care and will vote Liberal no matter what. The Conservatives need to persuade 39% of Canadians to vote FOR a CPC candidate because she or he offers something FOR them.
That something is a job ~ a working-class job. Good, solid working-class jobs are available in our resource industries and in building and operating and maintaining the transportation networks, including pipelines that get our resources to global markets, They should be available in our auto plants IF Robert Lighthizet has been successful in revising NAFTA so that rules of origin and labour standards no longer favour Mexico over Canada. They may not be the jobs that John Ibbitson was talking about, but they are good, well paid, secure jobs that bring dignity and hope to those who can get them. Good public policy and even better Conservative politics say that we need those jobs in Canada, for Canadians.