Thursday, August 10, 2006

Lamont on Jobs and Trade

Most discussion of the Lamont primary victory over Lieberman has focused on the war in Iraq. But the Lamont victory may also signal a shift in the Democratic party toward a more economically isolationist position.

Here, in its entirety, is what the Lamont campaign website says on a page titled Jobs:

Connecticut has lost 75,000 manufacturing jobs in the last six years, many replaced by retail and service jobs which pay less and have reduced healthcare and pension benefits. Today, the middle class is getting squeezed and most people living in poverty or near poverty are employed but not earning enough to get by.

Many of our high-skill jobs are being sent overseas, drawn by low wages and no benefits.

I support strictly-enforced fair trade policies which level the playing field, requiring that American products have the same access to Chinese markets that Chinese products have to American markets. I would support only reciprocal trade agreements which include strong labor and environmental standards.
So Lamont seems to think the U.S. economy is suffering and the primary reason is competition from poor workers in China.

This rhetoric scares me. Wages, benefits, and labor and environmental standards are primarily a function of the level of economic development. Complaining about poor countries' low wages and benefits is essentially blaming the poor for being poor.

Talk about "strong standards" sounds nice, but it is not realistic: Labor and environmental standards cannot catch up to U.S. levels until China is much richer than it is today. Demanding "strong standards" can easily become an excuse for imposing trade restrictions, which will only improvish the world's poor even further, as well as denying Americans the benefits of globalization.

In 2002, when the Senate passed Trade Promotion Authority, Lieberman voted in favor. A majority of Democratic Senators (including Harry Reid, the current minority leader) voted against. Would Lamont have voted for the pro-trade position as Lieberman did, or would he have voted with his party's majority? I don't know, but the campaign rhetoric is not encouraging.