Educating David Frum About the Trade Deficit

You can make a very good living coming up with stories about how the U.S. trade deficit is a good thing. After all, the jobs that are lost are overwhelming the jobs of less educated workers. In addition, the fact that trade takes away the jobs of millions of less-educated workers puts downward pressure on the pay of people without college degrees more generally.

That means that the folks with college and advanced degrees, who are largely protected from international competition by protectionist measures (e.g. professional licensing requirements that exclude foreign educated doctors, lawyers, dentists etc.) get to enjoy higher standards of living through two channels.

First they get to buy all those imported goodies (cars, television sets, clothes, etc.) at lower prices. Second, the help in areas like restaurant work, construction, landscaping etc. all get paid less, meaning lower prices for domestically produced goods. What’s not to like?

For this reason it is hardly surprising to see David Frum’s piece in the Atlantic touting the wonders of the U.S. trade deficit with China. Aren’t we lucky we have folks like Frum and magazines like the Atlantic to straighten out those stupid workers who can’t see how wonderful it is that they lose their jobs to import competition.

I’m sure Frum and the Atlantic would have published the same lecture if we had free trade in physicians’, dentists’ and lawyers’ services and protection for manufactured goods, so that our trade deficit was due to payments to foreign professionals (working under contract, so the payment goes to their employer).

Anyhow, I have written endlessly on this topic. Given the amount of money to support dreck on the other side I can’t respond to all of it, but here are a couple of pieces for folks who may want a bit more background. It is also covered in the first chapter of my [free] book Rigged.

This article originally appeared in Beat the Press.

Dean Baker is the senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC.