- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 6, 2004

As a native of New England, where the standard of living inexorably increased after its textile mills moved South in search of cheaper labor, and as one of the Democratic Party’s most distinguished advocates of free trade over the past two decades (until he began running for president), Sen. John Kerry has to know that he is playing a dangerous game stoking the passions and grievances of protectionism. Regrettably, Mr. Kerry doesn’t seem to care.

Joined by his Democratic colleagues in both bodies of Congress, who are introducing misguided, trade-destroying legislation, Mr. Kerry has been exploiting the recent phenomenon of offshoring a relative paucity of service jobs to India and elsewhere. His tactics represent the latest wrinkle in the intensifying efforts of Democrats to politicize anxieties that arise from trade’s inevitable dislocation costs, which, Mr. Kerry surely knows, are overwhelmed by the much larger economy-wide benefits generated by wealth-creating trade. Mr. Kerry also knows that David Ricardo’s nearly 200-year-old law of comparative advantage is in no way repealed by the inclusion of services, such as call centers and computer programming, among the items that have become more easily tradable in the age of the Internet and broadband. The law formulated by Ricardo in 1817 has ever since provided the compelling logic of mutually beneficial free trade.

Nevertheless, in the run-up to Super Tuesday, there was Mr. Kerry, seeking to capitalize on the illogic of protectionism while touring the shuttered steel works of Youngstown Sheet and Tube. So, let us have some perspective here. The American economy has shown a remarkable degree of resilience since trade and transformation began buffeting the likes of Youngstown Sheet and Tube in the mid-1970s. Symbolic of the decades-long changes that have transformed what was derisively known as the Rustbelt, the once-thriving Youngstown Sheet and Tube enterprise lost 5,000 of its 8,000 jobs in 1977 and closed for good in the mid-1980s. The subsequent massive, quarter-century-long transformation — whose costs were, admittedly, not always shared proportionately — nonetheless has occurred in an environment in which the American economy generated a net increase of more than 50 million jobs.

Since 1976, nonfarm employment in America has increased from fewer than 80 million workers to more than 130 million, rising by nearly two-thirds. Adjusted for inflation and measured in the purchasing power of today’s dollar, per capita GDP (the economy’s total output divided by the U.S. population) has soared from $22,000 in 1976 to $37,750 today, reflecting an increase of nearly 75 percent.

All of this has occurred as foreign trade was comprising an ever-increasing share of the U.S. economy. Indeed, this remarkable rise in America’s standard of living occurred in large part because of trade, not in spite of it. Having spent two decades casting votes that increased trade rather than limited it, Mr. Kerry knows this. That makes his recent protectionist gambit involving offshoring all the more deplorable.

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