Critics of trade advisor Navarro are 'wackadoodles'

Critics of trade advisor Navarro are 'wackadoodles'
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The Washington Post’s Damian Paletta recently reported on a controversial paper by President Trump’s trade advisor Peter Navarro

Apparently, Navarro’s document drew a connection between a weakened manufacturing base and subsequent socioeconomic costs in manufacturing communities, including a rise in mortality rates and a decline in the marriage rate.

The Post’s opinion writer, Dana Milbank, subsequently scoffed at Navarro’s assertionscalling them wackadoodle.” 


It’s unfortunate, however, that the Post’s pundits would blithely dismiss such an issue, since Navarro’s overall message is largely correct.


Numerous studies have documented the link between rising imports, lost manufacturing jobs and a growing set of social problems throughout the industrial heartlandEssentially, such sharp declines in employment have quickly propagated throughout the surrounding economy — with negative impacts subsequently affecting millions of Americans. 

As just one example, according to the Economic Policy Institute, the U.S.-China trade deficit eliminated 3.4 million U.S. jobs between 2001 and 2015. The result of such rising import competition habeen persistently higher unemployment levels and economic decline in many cities and communities.

When looking at such job loss on a more localized level, various studies have reported troubling impacts on marriage rates, ability to raise families and other basic indicators of family well-being.

Various studies have linked increased poverty and unemployment from import displacement with higher rates of crime and an increase in male deaths from drug and alcohol abuse.

2016 study by the Institute for the Study of Labor found that public safety expenditures have failed to match increased crime rates simply because municipalities lack the tax base needed to afford increased public safety measures.

Other studies have followed the chain of events that inevitably arise from such problems, including higher male imprisonmentwhich necessarily diminishes the security of family life. Children raised in single-parent homes face obvious statistical disadvantages, particularly those children living in poverty. 

Economists David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson argue, “Shrinking the pool of marriageable low-education men has eroded the incentive for men to maintain committed relationships, curtailed women’s gains from marriage and strengthened men’s bargaining position vis-a-vis casual sex, out-of-wedlock childbirth and non-custodial parenting.” 

These social changes weaken the appeal of marriage to women and lead to more single-parent families. The onslaught of imports in the period since 2000 delivered an unprecedented attack on the ability of semi-skilled and unskilled men to find a job and bring home a good paycheck in manufacturing areas.

Sociology has now shown that men and women in those areas have absorbed the economic implications of the reduced attractiveness of men as partners. We should not be surprised to see acceleration of the decline of the nuclear family, with negative consequences for children.

The Washington Post was quick to disparage Navarro’s report, asking whether such social ills necessarily result from poor trade deals and lost manufacturing jobs. But such distinctions mask a troubling disconnect among the media elite. 

The United States has lost roughly 5 million manufacturing jobs over the past 15 years. Clearly, a large number of them have been due to a lopsided trade balance — with the United States racking up hundreds of billions of dollars in trade debt each year.

No doubt, trade policy bears some measure of responsibility, and for the Post to quibble at the margins of a much larger problem is an offensive gesture when so many Americans are struggling.

Peter Navarro is correct to report on such troubling trends; and his call to redress trade imbalances and to rectify the problems affecting so many affected communities should be a priority for the Posts commentators, rather than a casual defense of the status quo.

Jason Cooper is a research assistant for the Coalition for a Prosperous America, an organization that advocates on behalf of export-oriented trade policy that benefits U.S. manufacturing.