Topic: Trade and Immigration

The Welfare State Causes “Sickness”

Sweden suffers from the world’s highest reported disability rate. This does not mean people there are actually sick, to be fair, but it does show that the welfare state creates bad incentives. People with weak values learn that they can feed at the public trough instead of doing something productive with their lives. A Wall Street Journal story explains how Swedish policy makers are trying to reverse the damage:

Swedes are among the healthiest people in the world according to the World Health Organization. And yet 13% of working-age Swedes live on some type of disability benefit – the highest proportion on the globe. To explain this, many Swedish policy makers, doctors and economists blame a welfare system that is too lax and does little to verify individual claims. … [G]overnments from Finland to Portugal are trying to cut back and get more people to work. Sweden’s bloated sick bay, which includes roughly 744,000 people on extended leave, has caused soul-searching about whether the system coddles Swedes and encourages them to feel sick. … During the 2002 monthlong World Cup soccer finals, short-term sick leave among Swedish men suspiciously rose by 55%. Earlier this year, police in Sweden’s capital city Stockholm investigated the local chapter of the Hell’s Angels biker gang for suspected benefit fraud, because 70% of the gang were on extended sickness benefits. The same doctor had certified them all as suffering from depression. … In Europe, roughly 20% of the working-age population – or 60 million people – depend on various government benefits as their sole or main income, compared with 13% in the U.S. That’s a major economic handicap. … Assar Lindbeck, one of Sweden’s best-known economists, says the lenient welfare state has changed the country over the past generation. In place of the old Protestant work ethic, it has become acceptable to feel unable to work and to live on benefits, he says. “I would not call it cheating,” Prof. Lindbeck says. “I would call it a drift in attitudes and social norms.”

The Latest from the Children’s Defense Fund

Or maybe a small child, judging by CDF’s fairly shameless pro-SCHIP campaign.

Turns out there is a solid case to be made that expanding SCHIP and Medicaid would leave us with more dead kids.  Of course, the ideological left won’t engage that debate. 

They’d rather just accuse their opponents of killing kittens.

Rare Sighting of Pro-Trade Democrats Rumored, Unconfirmed

Just when it seemed that control over the direction of U.S. trade policy was hopelessly and totally in the grips of congressional forces of darkness, there is a faint glimmer of hope that some Democrats might remember the days when they weren’t forced to consider trade a dirty word.  Given where things stand today, that’s not a trivial matter.

In a letter (sorry, subscription required–see excerpt below) dated May 2, six members of the House Ways and Means Committee (five of whom are Democrats!) urged Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez to abandon (or at least work to minimize the disruption to trade caused by) his Department’s Import Monitoring Program of Textile and Apparel Products from Vietnam.  The novelty alone of a letter from Congress urging the administration to tread lightly where imports are concerned warrants this post.

As you may recall from a previous post, the Bush Administration felt it had to buy off opposition to the bill that granted Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status to Vietnam.  Prominent holdouts demanding compensation were Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and the price, ultimately, was a commitment from the administration to monitor imports and to self-initiate antidumping cases if the situation warranted. That commitment from the administration was unprecedented, unnecessary, and disappointing.  Today it is reported to be scaring away investment in the Vietnamese industry and deterring trade between Vietnamese producers and U.S. customers. On trade policy, Democrats have earned most of their scorn by marching to the tune of labor unions, which would just as soon permanently separate U.S. customers from their foreign sources.  But Democrats also count among their constituents importers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers, producers, truckers, warehouse operators, port employees, and consumers who suffer when supply chains get tangled and severed.  The authors of the letter acknowledge:

Congressional passage of [PNTR] for Vietnam was intended to provide benefits for both United States businesses and consumers, as well as strengthen the U.S.-Vietnam relationship and provide opportunities for economic growth that would benefit the Vietnamese people.  We are deeply concerned that the disruption in trade caused by the import monitoring program is cutting away at many of the benefits of granting PNTR status to Vietnam.

Well put, indeed! Hopefully, the congressional trade leadership was copied because its recently unveiled New Trade Policy for America reflects predominantly an antitrade perspective that has been allowed to fester and metastisize within the Democratic caucus.

Fed Chairman Explains Benefits of Free Trade, Warns against Protectionism

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke delivered an important speech Tuesday on the benefits of free trade to our economy and workers. Speaking to an audience in Butte, Montana, Bernanke explained why trade raises our standard of living and backed up his economic logic with up-to-date evidence.

He acknowledged that some workers and companies lose out, at least temporarily, from more vigorous global competition, but he warned that protectionism would be the worst possible policy response.

As the Fed chairman told his audience:

Restricting trade by imposing tariffs, quotas, or other barriers is exactly the wrong thing to do. Such solutions might temporarily slow job loss in affected industries, but the benefits would be outweighed, typically many times over, by the costs, which would include higher prices for consumers and increased costs (and thus reduced competitiveness) for U.S. firms. Indeed, studies of the effects of protectionist policies almost invariably find that the costs to the rest of society far exceed the benefits to the protected industry. In the long run, economic isolationism and retreat from international competition would inexorably lead to lower productivity for U.S. firms and lower living standards for U.S. consumers.

Rather than closing U.S. markets, Bernanke wisely recommends “policies and programs aimed at easing the transition of displaced workers into new jobs and increasing the adaptability and skills of the labor force more generally.”

If you want to understand what free trade really means for Americans, I recommend the full text of his illuminating speech.

New Report Unwittingly Reveals Small Impact of China Trade on U.S. Jobs

Our friends and ideological rivals at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington are releasing a report this week that supposedly documents that trade with China has cost more than 2 million Americans their jobs. The report is illuminating, but in ways its author did not intend.

Here’s how EPI’s press release on the study describes its results:

The dramatic rise in the United States’ trade deficit with China from 1997 - 2006 has cost jobs in every region in the country.  In a new report, Costly Trade with China, to be issued May 2, 2007 by the Economic Policy Institute, economist Robert Scott reports the growth of the trade deficit with China in this period has displaced production that supported 2,166,000 U.S. jobs, with New England being the hardest hit region of the country. 

For reasons I’ve explained in detail before [.pdf], EPI’s methodology for calculating job losses from trade is fundamentally flawed. Its model ignores the dynamic effects of trade on U.S. economic growth, the beneficial effects of foreign investment, and the tremendous and healthy “churn” of the U.S. labor market.

Even if we accept EPI’s calculation of 2.2 million jobs lost, that is a drop in the bucket in an economy that employs almost 150 million people. Note that EPI’s number is spread over a decade, meaning that the actual number of jobs lost each year on average would be 216,600.

Compare that to the 320,000 or so Americans who line up EVERY WEEK to claim unemployment insurance after being displaced from their jobs–mostly because of technology, and domestic competition. In other words, trade with China, even by EPI’s exaggerated measure, accounts for about three business days’ worth of unemployment claims in a typical year.

More than compensating for the relatively small job displacement caused by trade with China are the huge benefits it delivers through lower prices at the store, lower interest rates, growing export opportunities, and greater peace and stability in East Asia.

For more on trade with China, check out our research at www.freetrade.org.

Mallaby, Penn & Teller on Immigration

Sebastian Mallaby’s Washington Post column today on immigration is simply outstanding. After providing evidence that hard-working people who have crossed the border without the state’s stamp of approval do not increase the rate of unemployment, cost the average taxpayer nothing, and at worst depress wages of native high school drop-outs by 9 percent, Mallaby makes the argument that many otherwise decent people seem unable to make: the well-being of immigrants counts, too:

[A]lthough the concern for high-school dropouts is welcome, it must be weighed against the aspirations of migrants. Is it right to push native workers’ pay up by 2 percent [a generous estimate of the gain from tighter restrictions on liberty of movement] if that means depriving poor Mexicans of a chance to triple their incomes?

Of course it isn’t, and given that the total economic effect of immigration on U.S. households is a wash, the big ramp-up in enforcement spending beloved by immigration hawks is an egregious waste of money. But no politician is going to say that.

Another excellent, and rather more entertaining, rejoinder to nativist hysteria is Penn and Teller’s new immigration episode of Bullsh*t, available here for your viewing pleasure.

Shed No Tears for U.S. Manufacturers

I’m going on BBC radio shortly to comment on the creation of a new lobbying group called the Alliance for American Manufacturing. Funded in part by the United Steelworkers Union, the group promises to agitate for trade restrictions against allegedly “unfair” imports from China.

Putting the “unfair trade” charge aside for a moment, there is no evidence that U.S. manufacturing as a whole is suffering from import competition, whether fair or unfair (whatever that means). Consider a few facts that you probably won’t find on the AAM’s slick new website:

U.S. manufacturing output is up 40 percent in the past decade by volume. American workers continue to produce more chemicals and pharmaceuticals, more semiconductors and sophisticated medical equipment, more aircraft and even auto parts than ever before.

After-tax profits of U.S. manufacturing companies topped $400 billion last year.

Imports from China have displaced relatively few Americans workers. Workers who have lost their jobs because of imports from China account for only about 1 percent of annual U.S. job displacement. The sectors where China has been most competitive tend to be in lower-value goods such as clothing, shoes and other labor-intensive products.

Manufacturing jobs have been declining, not because of falling production, but because of soaring productivity. We are producing record volumes of manufacturing output with fewer workers because remaining workers are so much more productive.

China represents the fastest growing major export market for U.S. manufacturing exporters.

To get more details and analysis on our trade relationship with China, check out my 2006 Cato Trade Briefing Paper, “Who’s Manipulating Whom?”