The Punditocracy's Trade Coverage Races to the Bottom

Alan Tonelson |

Upon reading Charles Lane’s Washington Post column this morning about Congress’ fight over giving President Obama sweeping new trade authority, my first reaction was “And I thought the Wall Street Journal editorial board was ignorant!” But that’s unfair to Lane. Although he’s just treated readers to a breathtaking display of fakeonomics, his own know-nothing-ism on these issues is really no worse than the Journal‘s latest. All the same, since the Post is often considered on a different level than, say, the National Enquirer, Lane’s treatment of trade economics – and politics – merits spotlighting.

Lane’s looney-ism begins right away with his claim that, since President Obama and both Houses of Congress are record supporting fast track authority for the Executive Branch (the House’s vote Friday, to be sure, was purely symbolic), anyone in opposition is standing against a “democratic tide.” As if it’s unusual for special interests, especially Wall Street and the rest of Big Business, to control the Washington deployments of both major parties?

But the author’s economics are even sillier. According to this Post pundit, planned new trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will only affect the small number of American workers who produce tradeable goods. Apparently he doesn’t know that for a quarter century at least, the job- and wage-killing effects of wrongheaded trade deals and related policies have rippled widely through the labor markets encompassing working class Americans of all skill levels.

And don’t take my word for it. As Simon Constable just wrote for, there’s growing agreement in the mainstream economics community – including the Federal Reserve – that admitting China into the World Trade Organization in 2001 destroyed millions of American manufacturing jobs in just the half decade that followed. Does Lane really believe that these displaced workers haven’t been plunged into competition for remaining (often less remunerative) employment with their counterparts in “sectors outside the flow of global commerce,” putting powerful downward pressure on pay? And does he really think that the “cheap imports” facilitated by these and similar decisions healthily offset the effects of trade-related job and wage loss?

Equally bizarre is Lane’s stated view that the only possible trade threats to American worker’s well-being come from “low-wage competition” from third world countries like China. I guess he’s never heard of Japan, the world’s third largest national economy, which is known to have sent a subsidized export or two to the United States over the last few decades – and which of course is a member of the first group of prospective TPP countries.

And speaking of Japan, Lane’s claim that under the TPP, Tokyo will “open its markets to U.S. goods and pursue long-postponed structural reforms” is positively side-splitting. Just who on earth told him that? A White House press flack?

These Journal and Post missives over the last two days are far from the Mainstream Media’s worst analyses of U.S. trade policy. They’re just the two most recent examples of the kind of media mud- and hokum-slinging that’s always generated when Congress towards decisive trade votes. You might even call it another globalization-related race to the bottom.

DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not represent the views of Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to:


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