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Friday, October 10, 2003

Bad News for Free Traders

The front page of the Wall Street Journal trumpets the rise of a new anti-free trade coalition that includes increasing numbers of white-collar professionals:

"A new anti-free-trade movement is emerging in the U.S., comprising highly skilled workers who once figured they would be big winners in the globalized economy but now see their white-collar jobs moving overseas in growing numbers.

"The new opponents to lowering trade barriers are especially vocal, and their complaints already are getting the attention of Congress and the White House. Their concerns got an unexpected boost Thursday when Intel Corp. Chairman Andy Grove, a pioneer in the American high-tech industry, warned that the U.S. could lose the bulk of its information technology jobs to overseas competitors in the next decade, largely to India and China...

"The new free-trade opponents include design engineers, skilled machinists, information-technology experts, and chief executives of specialized manufacturing concerns, among others. They long believed they were largely protected from foreign competition because of their advanced degrees, English language skills and the supposed necessity of dealing face-to-face with customers. But now they worry their jobs are at risk.

"At the focus of their ire are big U.S. companies that have shifted business to China and India, which are becoming increasingly successful at nabbing service, information technology and high-end manufacturing work that until recently have been the preserve of U.S. firms. Companies seeking to lower their costs have either moved operations abroad or have contracted with foreign companies to supply essential services."

The current economic atmosphere and the looming election season do not bode well for a more open US trade policy in the forseeable future. People are anxious about job loss and thus unlikely to have patience with arguments about the benefits of open trade. My hope is that a politician emerges with the honesty and skill to preserve the open trading system even as it is under attack, but that politician has yet to arrive on the scene.