Listening to liberals on the campaign trail or Lou Dobbs every night, one would think that U.S. trade with china has been a disaster for Americans. Not so says a new paper by University of Chicago colleagues John Romalis and Christian Broda. The American reports:
According to their research, the perceived rise in inequality—accepted as gospel by many economists and political figures—comes down to a simple measurement error, namely, focusing only on income, rather than on the prices of goods that particular groups consume.
“We are underestimating the gains from trade,” Broda says. “The current statistical interpretation ignores the fact that a poor household today can access goods that, in the 1960s, they could not—microwaves, DVDs—and, more importantly, that the prices of the staples that lower-income households consume have also gone down dramatically.”
Indeed, he claims that lower-income Americans, who tend to spend more on certain goods, have made impressive strides over the past decade, thanks largely to U.S. trade with China.
The Broda-Romalis paper, “Inequality and Prices: Does China Benefit the Poor in America?,” shows that from 1994 to 2005, much of the increase in U.S. income inequality was actually offset by a decline in the price index of the goods that poorer households consume. Inflation for the richest 10 percent of U.S. households, which tend to spend more on services, was 6 percent higher than inflation for the poorest 10 percent, which tend to spend more on nondurable goods, the type of goods often imported from China and sold at Wal-Mart.
Broda and Romalis found that in the sectors where Chinese imports have increased the most (especially nondurable goods such as canned food and clothing), prices have fallen dramatically. They estimate that about one-third of the price decline for the poor is directly associated with rising imports from China. “In the sectors where there is no Chinese presence,” Broda says, “inflation has been more than 20 percent.”
“In the ’60s, all the talk was about trying to win the war against poverty,” he adds. “The bottom line with our study is that we may have won the war against poverty without even noticing it. Here we have Congress debating why the poor in America haven’t been able to grasp the great economic growth we’ve seen in the last 30 years. ‘It’s been only concentrated in the top 1 percent,’ they say. And, absolutely, that segment has grown a lot. But that doesn’t mean that the poor haven’t been able to access part of that progress.”