TPA is dead! Long live free trade!

“What most Americans have experienced are more foreign products on shelves, weak job growth for Americans, and declining living standards for all but the wealthy.”

10-june-1917_british-sopwith-camel_20Ordinary Americans apparently have reached the end of their rope with politicians who give away their jobs — especially well-paying union jobs — to foreigners while they get nothing in return. Republicans want to keep doing that, and had President Obama in their corner for the latest trade deal, but unions — a traditional Democratic constituency — have been stabbed in the back by the party they supported one time too many; and TPA, which would give Obama authority to negotiate a far-reaching Pacific Rim trade deal, spiraled down in flames in Friday’s 302-126 House vote as a result of intense union pressure on Democratic congressmen. (Read the story here.)

The problem, conservative blogger and former Bush speechwriter David Frum (who penned the lede above) says, is that too many Americans have gotten too raw a deal for too long. “Trade is a pro-growth policy,” Frum writes. “But when the proceeds of growth are not widely shared, … it becomes difficult to sustain [a] consensus in favor of pro-growth measures … [that are perceived] to impose costs on American workers.” Polls bear this out: “A recent Pew Research poll found that although 58 percent of Americans felt that free trade benefits the national economy, just 43 percent thought such deals benefited their own families finances. And pluralities of Americans believe that free trade slows economic growth, lowers wages, and leads to job losses.” (Click here for Frum’s article.)

Maybe it doesn’t, or not as much as the public believes. Maybe the job losses, declining wages, and shrinking middle class aren’t connected to the rising fortunes of the upper class and the daily minting of new tech and finance billionaires. (It seems we’re being overrun by billionaires.) But to millions of Americans, it sure feels like cause and effect. At a minimum, there’s no evidence that those who have benefited enormously from free trade give a damn about America’s beleaguered middle and working classes. And that’s poisoning our politics.

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