…imaginary jobs that might or might not materialize. As a long-time customer of New Balance shoes (not only do I like the shoes, but they’re U.S. made), it looks like a ‘free’* trade agreement will kill off 1,000 existing jobs in Maine (italics mine):
At the factory here owned by New Balance, the last major athletic shoe brand to manufacture footwear in the United States, even workers on the shop floor recognize that in purely economic terms, the operation doesn’t make sense.
The company could make far more money if, like Nike and Adidas, it shifted virtually all of these jobs to low-wage countries.
So employees try each shift to make it up. Conversations on the shop floor are sparse at best, and the tasks at each work station have been stripped of waste and precisely timed. Workers cut leather for a pair of shoes in 88 seconds, handle precise stitching in 37 seconds, and glue soles to uppers even faster.
“The company already could make more money by going overseas and they know it,” said Scott Boulette, 35, a burly team leader who has his son’s name tattooed in Gothic letters down his left forearm. “So we hustle.”
Now, however, comes what may be an insurmountable challenge. The Obama administration is negotiating a free-trade agreement with Vietnam and seven other countries, and it is unclear whether the plant can stand up to a flood of shoes from that country, already one of the leading exporters of footwear to the United States.
The argument for the trade agreement:
Backed by many economists, the administration says the agreement with Vietnam and the other countries, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, would create U.S. jobs by opening up Asian countries to U.S. exports such as computers from California and paper products from Maine.
“This agreement will create a potential platform for economic integration across the Asia-Pacific region, a means to advance U.S. economic interests with the fastest-growing economies in the world,” U.S. Trade Representative Ronald Kirk told Congress in announcing that negotiations were about to begin.
Moreover, importing shoes from Vietnam at lower costs would benefit some in the United States, either by reducing prices for consumers or raising profits for manufacturers that have their operations overseas.
Given the pathetic history of trade agreements for U.S. workers, I think the Obama administration will have to do better than hypothetical job creation due to a market in a desperately poor country. And please, the “profits for manufacturers that have their operations overseas” won’t be passed on to you: they’ll sit offshore, until the next ‘tax holiday.’ As one worker put it:
“If customers pay a few more dollars for a pair of shoes, then so be it,” said Sheri Fuller, 54, who has worked at the factory for 24 years. “If you take jobs away from people, the hit is going to be a lot bigger.”
Keep real, existing jobs here.
An aside: As Noah Smith notes, there is a serious argument to be made that technological innovation in manufacturing processes has been replaced by cheap foreign labor. If you’re an efficiency devotee, that should really bother you.
*As Barry Lynn points out in Cornered, all markets have rules and regulations–the question is who benefits from those rules. There are no ‘free’ markets.