Friday, October 29, 2010

Feeble signs of press concern about free trade policies

Could it be that the press is becoming aware of the perils posed by U.S. trade policies? Maybe, but don’t count on any follow-up.

“Six Reasons for U.S. to Abandon Free-Trade Myth” is the title of a column by Ian Fletcher published in the October 25 issue of Bloomberg Business Week. Fletcher, author of “Free Trade Doesn’t Work” and an adjunct fellow at the U.S. Business and Industry Council, advocates imposing U.S. compensatory tariffs on imports subsidized by currency manipulation, a move recently passed by the House of Representation.

The conservative business writer, Robert J. Samuelson, is especially troubled by our one-sided trade relations with China. The title of his September 27 op-ed column in the Washington Post summarizes his position; “Standing up to China: A trade war may be the lesser of two evils.” He charges that China “has never genuinely accepted the basic rules governing the world economy.”

Even the New York Times, that staunch defender of free trade, is sounding an alarm, as in an August 16 editorial, “Return of the Killer Trade Deficit.” It describes the “very dangerous habits” of China, as well as Germany, but limits itself to lecturing them to spend more at home and abroad. America should slow national spending and save more. The Times fears a trade war, as if China hasn’t been waging one for years.

So the press mood may be shifting, but not enough to help prevent the United States from committing economic suicide.

For some background, read my blog item of January 2, “Economic suicide is not an option.”

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Gloomy jobs picture for U.S.

They are not on the U.S. payrolls of American multinationals, but they are employed in other countries by subsidiaries and affiliates of U.S. multinationals operating in China and elsewhere abroad.

In 2008 that employment stood at 11,900,000 -- an increase of 729,000 in two years – according to the August report of the U.S. Commerce Department, which tracks such employment data.

Our de facto global labor force is likely to increase, meaning that more and more U.S. jobs will continue to go “off shore.” A preview of that trend is evident from the number of Americans who get federal assistance because off-shoring cost them their jobs.

As I learned from an article by Don Lee of the Los Angeles Times:

“For the six months that ended September 30, workers at about 1,200 offices and plants nationwide were approved for federal Adjustment Assistance. That’s about 20% more approvals than in the same six-month period last year, according to the U.S. Labor Department.”

In an analysis of a Bureau of Labor Statistics September report on U.S. employment and unemployment, the Economic Policy Institute wrote: “The labor market is now 1l,500,000 jobs below the level needed to restore the pre-recession unemployment rate (5.0% in December 2007)."

The September jobless rate was 9.6%. See
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Friday, October 15, 2010

Apple, iPad, China, and Me

I was just about to buy Apple’s latest electronic wonder, the iPad. It tempted me most of all because I could use it to replace some newspapers to which I subscribe. They are becoming fatter and fatter and thus heavier and heavier to carry from the curb every day and then back for the weekly pickup.

But I hesitated. Should I also order any accessory beyond the thin case to protect the $499 i-Pad? What else?

Meantime, I read the latest news about Foxconn, the multinational that manufactures gadgets for Apple and other multinationals that outsource their production to China. I wrote a blog item about the news, titled “Silicon sweatshops in China exposed by academics in China.” (See my blog of Tuesday, October 12.)

I tussled with myself.

Deal or no deal? No deal. And no great sacrifice either. I can get electronic versions of those newspapers through other, cleaner sources. I’ll have to write a letter to Apple and another to President Obama. My little protest won’t trouble Apple.

Since free trade in its present form limits our choices, I have compromised my principles many times before, and may do so again. But not this time.

With the mid-term elections looming, I’ve gotten appeals signed by the President telling me, “Robert, I need you.” I emailed back; “Mr. President, we need you.”
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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Silicon sweatshops in China exposed by academics in China

The serious labor abuses that this spring led to 11 worker suicides at two Foxconn plants in Shenzhen, China, are continuing at other Foxconn electronic factories in China, according to a study by academics and students at universities in China.

Foxconn, based in Taiwan, is the world’s largest manufacturer of electronics. Its nearly 1,000,000 workers in China alone produce best-selling gadgets for the world’s top multinationals, including Apple, Sony, HP, and Nokia.

The 90-page report was first released October 11 to China’s media and a new commercial Website based in Boston, GlobalPost, Its correspondent, Kathleen E. McLaughlin, has been following the Foxconn story as part of an on-going Globalpost investigation of the complex supply chains that produce many of our most precious, high-tech gadgets.

The report makes a litany of charges, including treating people as interns and students and hiring them through third-part employment agencies, thus avoiding insurance and other benefits required under Chinese law. In several of the 12 Foxconn facilities visited in a two-month-long study, interns were found to constitute the majority of workers, and expected to work unlimited overtime, contrary to law.

“Under the labor and dormitory conditions, there is great physical, spiritual, and special repression,” the report charged. “A worker can easily be forced to the edge of collapse. Many workers use words like ‘cage’ and ‘prison’ to describe Foxconn.”

In a statement, “Foxconn Technology Group strongly and categorically rejects…alleging worker abuse, illegal practices and unsafe working conditions at our operations in China.” The company insisted that it follows all Chinese laws, including the one on hiring interns through vocational schools. It said that interns numbered 7.8 percent of its Chinese work force.

A question left unanswered: how was it possible for a group to conduct and publicize this study in Communist China?

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Monday, October 04, 2010

People now more ‘soured’ than ever on trade and off-shoring

Almost all managers and professionals believe that outsourcing of production and manufacturing work to foreign countries is a reason the U.S. economy is struggling and few are being hired. That’s a surprising finding of the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC news poll.

The exact percentage of managers and professionals who hold that view is 95%. The lowest figure is 75% for retired people.

Another surprising finding published in the October 4 Journal: 90% of Republicans and 80% of Democrats take the negative position on outsourcing and its stifling effect on the U.S. economy.

The Journal’s page one story, headlined “Americans Sour on Trade,” also dealt with another question: “Do you think free-trade agreements have helped or hurt the U.S.?”

Hurt the U.S., according to more than half (53%) of those surveyed, up from 46% three years ago and 32% in 1999, according to the Journal.

In analyzing the total results of the survey, the Journal added:

“Even Americans most likely to be winners from trade – upper income, well-educated professionals, whose jobs are less likely to go overseas and whose industries are often buoyed by demand from international markets – are increasingly skeptical.”
What if Congress were to pass legislation in response to the U.S. multi-billion dollar trade deficit with China now that public opinion is increasingly “sour”?

In the October 4 issue the Journal did not comment on that possibility, which it would normally denounce as triggering a “trade war.” But in the September 27 Washington Post column, economics writer Robert J. Samuelson deals with a possible trade war were the U.S. to adopt a policy of “Standing up to China,” as his article is titled. His answer, as expressed in its subtitle: “A trade war may be the lesser of two evils.”

The basic problem with China, Samuelson points out, is that it has never genuinely accepted the rules governing the world trading system, Its major victim is the United States, at a crippling cost in American jobs and to U.S.-based companies.

China benefits from a trading system subordinate to its needs, which Samuelson says includes ample export markets to support the jobs necessary to keep the Communist party in power.

“The collision,” he writes, “is between two concepts of the world order…The United States faces a dreadful choice: resist China’s ambitions and risk a trade war in which everyone loses; or do nothing and let China remake the trading system. The first would be dangerous; the second, potentially disastrous.”
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