Not so long ago, the U.S.-China Business Council released a study showing that U.S. exports to China have risen over the past decade. Their point was, isn’t this great– trade with China means that U.S. exports keep growing.
It’s all in the way you spin the data, though. In actuality, while exports to China may be growing, imports from China have grown at a far greater rate. And so, if you look at both exports AND imports, you see a situation where the U.S. trade deficit with China has jumped by more than $200 billion over the last decade.
In another example of disingenuous data slicing, CounterPunch‘s John Walsh says that U.S. manufacturing is doing great, and any decline in America’s industrial employment is simply due to increasing automation. In fact, Walsh deplores the “demonization of China,” though he makes no comment on Beijing’s intellectual property theft, human rights abuses, disregard for environmental norms, and, most significantly, a wide array of trade practices that violate world trade law.
Walsh praises U.S. manufacturing output, which has continually risen, though he recognizes that China’s steep climb in the past decade means it is “now slightly ahead” of the U.S.
What’s really going on, according to Walsh, is that U.S. manufacturing output continues to climb, though employment has continually fallen since roughly 2000. To him this “cannot be explained by offshoring. There is only one explanation – automation.”
So, in Walsh’s view, the millions of lost U.S. manufacturing jobs are due to gains in automation. No mention of the fact that U.S. workers and factories are the most productive in the world.
Walsh believes the U.S. has shed petty manufacturing sectors like “T-shirts and shoes” but still exports “high value-added, high profit items.” This sort of attitude reveals the condescension that has allowed vast swaths of textile jobs to leave the U.S., devastating communities in states like North Carolina and South Carolina.
More significantly, though, it’s not even accurate. What’s truly troubling about America’s unbalanced trade relationship with China is that a significant percentage of the estimated 2.7 million jobs lost due to the U.S. trade deficit with China (from 2001-2011) are in high-tech sectors.
According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the U.S. trade deficit with China in the computer and electronic parts industry displaced more than 1 million jobs in high-tech industries, 2001-2011. In fact, rapidly growing imports of computer and electronic parts, including computers, semiconductors and audio-video equipment, accounted for nearly 55 percent of the $217.5 billion increase in the U.S. trade deficit with China in that time.
If Walsh claims automation is at fault for these lost jobs, he’s simply wrong. Research, design, and engineering jobs can not be automated. Some of the greatest percentages of job loss to China in the EPI study were in communities like Silicon Valley. Simply put, China is now claiming a greater and greater number of America’s best and brightest jobs.
Walsh’s views is clinical, and based on a calculated analysis of graphs and data. But it ignores very real-world common sense. Instead of worrying about “China bashing,” why not look into the legitimate grievances that America’s manufacturers and their workers have toward China, and take action when Beijing continually violates trade agreements for its own benefit.