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Trade Pacts Changed American Politics

April 29, 2016
Plain English Version
TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Mira OBERMAN, US-vote-economy-Ohio Weeds grow outside the gate of an abandoned General Motors automotive assembly plant in Moraine, Ohio on September 25, 2012. Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney has made the nation's weak economy the centerpiece of his campaign as he attacks US President Barack Obama's handling of the deepest downturn in decades and insists "we can't afford four more years." But things are looking up in the key swing state of Ohio, where Obama is currently up 5.4 points in the polls. The sprawling GM plant used to build sport utility vehicles and employed 2,400 people when it was shuttered in December 2008. The 4.2 million square feet facility is currently being redeveloped into smaller units and the first tenant -- plate heat exchanger WCR Inc. -- signed an agreement to lease 60,000 square feet (5574.18 square meters) in late August. AFP PHOTO/MIRA OBERMAN (Photo credit should read MIRA OBERMAN/AFP/GettyImages)

MIRA OBERMAN/AFP/GettyImages

You may live in a town where the factory has closed. It may have gone out of business. There is a good chance it moved its production to Asia.

For years, trade pacts were with advanced countries such as Japan. They did not result in the importing of lower-cost goods. It changed with China entering the World Trade Organization. Jobs began to go to China. Lower-priced products began to flow into this country. The same was true with Mexico after the Nafta agreement.

The trade pacts destroyed production in many parts of the country. But it especially hurt in the South. There was the loss of jobs in small towns where the factory was the big employer.

The unemployed reacted with their votes. Older white workers began voting for candidates who blamed Washington for the trade pacts. This trend started about six years ago. It changed the face of the Congress. Republicans took over the House of Representatives.

Researchers found that where the jobs were lost the tea party emerged. The new faces in Congress are against trade pacts. They are against immigrants who fill low-wage jobs. The voters elected tea party candidates. These same voters are supporters of Donald Trump.

The people hurt in this economy are against trade and immigration. The more you express that view when you run for office, the more likely you are to get elected.

Could the government have done more to soften the blow where jobs were lost? Observers say it did not do much. But tea party representatives in Congress want to reduce spending. The people who lost their jobs voted for these right wing candidates. The ones elected do not support spending for new jobs programs. These voters voted against the programs that would help them. Will the jobs come back? Not likely.

There is another side. An economist said, “The benefit of free trade is ten times the size of the losses. Free trade really helps working-class people in terms of lower prices for products.”

When facing the voters, few politicians will make that their campaign slogan.

Source: The New York Times April 25, 2016

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