Thanks to Joe Nocera’s Labor Day essay on offshoring and U.S. workers, we know that the New York Times columnist both feels the pain of some American victims of overseas jobs flight, and yet believes that the forces that have driven their work abroad and their living standards down will ultimately enrich Americans on net because the positions lost are in “archaic industries” like bedroom furniture. And he’s confident that better education for displaced workers (and especially their presumably more promising children) to “get them into high-skilled jobs” should be Washington’s policy focus.
In the process, of course, Nocera has also revealed that he knows absolutely nothing important about U.S. trade and related investment flows, and about their impact on the American economy. The biggest problem with the author’s grasp of globalization – his apparent view that all of its damage has been inflicted on the lowest-value sectors and their workforces.
Had he bothered to look at readily available U.S. trade statistics, he’d know how completely offbase that contention is. For example, this year so far, America has been running trade deficits with low-wage and supposedly low-tech China in semiconductors, telecommunications equipment, electro-medical devices like MRI and CAT scan machines, construction equipment, ball and roller bearings, turbines and turbine generator sets, all categories of auto parts (including high-value engines and power train and transmission parts), farm machinery and equipment, aeronautical and nautical detection and guidance systems, relays and industrial controls, industrial process control instruments, specialty dies and other equipment for the machine tool industry, and numerous other industries. And in most cases, these deficits have been worsening in recent years.
Perhaps more revealing, China’s share of the America’s own market in literally dozens of these industries has been rising rapidly since the late-1990s. It’s true that not all of the U.S. jobs lost in these advanced manufacturing sectors have gone to China – and other low-cost third world countries. But the data incontrovertibly show that trade flows as such have hammered their American work forces.
In one sense, you can’t blame Nocera for his ignorance. He’s not a specialist on these subjects. But by the same token, if his knowledge is as meager as his willingness to do a few minutes of research, shouldn’t he leave the field to people who actually know what they’re talking about, or who are responsible enough to learn?