Free Trade Agreements have Hurt the U.S. – WSJ.com
The American public, already skeptical of free trade, is becoming increasingly hostile to it.
Across the country, politicians are responding accordingly, and that is clouding prospects for congressional approval of pending free-trade pacts with South Korea and Colombia. It is also prompting concern among U.S. businesses reliant on the rest of the world for growth.
In the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, more than half of those surveyed, 53%, said free-trade agreements have hurt the U.S. That is up from 46% three years ago and 32% in 1999.
Even Americans most likely to be winners from trade—upper-income, well-educated professionals, whose jobs are less likely to go overseas and whose industries are often buoyed by demand from international markets—are increasingly skeptical.
“The important change is that very well-educated and upper-income people compared to five to 10 years ago have shifted their opinion and are now expressing significant concern about the notion of…free trade,” said Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who helps conduct the Journal survey. Among those earning $75,000 or more, 50% now say free-trade pacts have hurt the U.S., up from 24% who said the same in 1999.
Worries about side effects of trade and outsourcing seem one of the few issues on which Americans of different classes, occupations and political persuasions agree. The vote in the House last week to arm the administration with more levers to pressure China to let its currency rise, and thus restrain its export machine, was bipartisan: 249 Democrats and 99 Republicans voted for it.
While the rhetoric may be heated by approaching congressional elections, the sentiment isn’t likely to disappear after November. “We are entering a very dangerous period in which we could actually slip backwards and see the undoing of some of the progress that has been made in recent decades toward a more open world economy,” said William Galston, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton now at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution think tank in Washington.
The rising hostility seems a delayed reaction to a slow economic recovery and high unemployment. To many, China has replaced Wall Street as the villain du jour. Opposition to trade is fueled by reports that many U.S. multinational companies, sitting on huge stockpiles of cash, are reluctant to invest in the U.S. and are looking overseas, and by the fact that China has pulled out of the global slump much faster than the U.S.