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All of the rhetoric on jobs makes for good press and fires up the general public but not enough people under stand why the job situation is like it is and what should and could  be done about it. Unfortunately too many of us follow the same path of listening to people who have an agenda that does nor include any good for any of us. We have for many years suffered under the hands of self serving politicians who play on our fears and weaknesses for their own ends. There was a statement ascribed to Native Americans in many Westerns which goes like this: “White Man Speaks with Forked Tongue”, now replace white man with politicians and you have  21st century America. 

July 21, 2016

By Rick Newman

The little guy has an unusually loud voice in this year’s presidential election. Angry voters who feel they’re falling behind in the global economy have animated the entire campaign of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who wants to tear up trade deals and impose sharp new tariffs on cheap imports. His Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, has shifted her own views as well, moving toward harsher trade policies and expanded government subsidies for those who are struggling.

The focus on free trade frustrates many economists, who argue that open borders benefit nearly everybody by lowering the cost of products in just about every category. But free-trade supporters increasingly acknowledge that there are also losers from free trade—and that the United States does very little to help them. “Trade isn’t a panacea,” John Murphy of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobbying group, tells me in the video above. “It doesn’t mean rainbows and unicorns for everyone in the country when trade costs jobs, as it does occasionally.”

So why don’t we do more to help the workers harmed when work leaves the United States for cheaper foreign markets? Murphy outlines a few reasons. First, most government aid money is targeted at disabled workers, unemployment insurance and nutrition assistance. The U.S. government has never spent much on worker retraining, and the amount spent now is actually lower than it was 25 years ago, before the controversial North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 1994. Germany spends five to seven times as much as the United States, relative to GDP, helping workers adjust to disruption.

Some jobs are eliminated not by foreign competition but by new technology—and there are few government programs designed to deal with that. Many times it’s a combination of factors that cause a plant to close or a company to cut jobs. Businesses sometimes retrain their own workers or train new ones coming onboard. But no group, in either the public or private sector, is in charge of identifying the broad skills employers need at any given time, forming training programs, determining where the good jobs are and helping the people who need the jobs get there.

Trump and Clinton aren’t yet talking about how to address those problems, but businesses are starting to think about it—partly out of self-interest. “When members of our board of directors come together, one of the things we hear most often is the skills gap they face,” Murphy says. “It’s very difficult for some industries to fill vacancies they need to fill.” Job-seekers who can’t get a phone call returned might find that hard to believe, but the data does show a big gap between the technological skills companies need and the dated, 20th-century capabilities of many unemployed or underemployed workers.

Government moves slowly, however, and it could be a long time before life preservers go out to the people left behind by globalization. For the time being, attacking free trade seems like a simpler way to address the problem.

Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman

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