The first victim of the highly competitive Democratic primary has been our country’s bipartisan consensus on free trade. During the last debate in Ohio Hillary Clinton promised to unilaterally pull out of NAFTA unless Canada and Mexico agreed to “renegotiate on terms that are favorable to all of America.” In a rare moment of unanimity Barack Obama replied: “And I think actually Senator Clinton’s answer on this one is right.”
According to both Democratic frontrunners, U.S. manufacturing was just fine until NAFTA came along and sent many of our manufacturing jobs to Canada and Mexico. This is simply not true. No friend to conservatives Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich blogged Friday:
It’s a shame the Democratic candidates for president feel they have to make trade – specifically NAFTA – the enemy of blue-collar workers and the putative cause of their difficulties. NAFTA is not to blame. Consider the numbers. When NAFTA took effect, Ohio had 990,000 manufacturing jobs. Two years later, in 1996, it had 1,300,000 manufacturing jobs. The number stayed above a million for the rest of the 1990s. Today, though, there are about 775,000 manufacturing jobs in Ohio. What happened? The economy expanded briskly through the 1990s. Then it crashed in late 2000, and the manufacturing jobs lost in that last recession never came back. They didn’t come back for two reasons: In some cases, employers automated the jobs out of existence, using robots and computers. In other cases, employers shipped the jobs abroad, mostly to China – not to Mexico.