US PRESIDENT DONALD Trump lambasted cheap Chinese imports for destroying American jobs when he was on the campaign trail last year.
A National Bureau of Economic Research working paper by Robert Feenstra of the University of California, Davis and Akira Sasahara of the University of Idaho, which recently came across our desk though published in August, suggests the damage may not have been as extensive as previously thought once the gain in jobs from US exports to China are taken into account.
Looking at the impact of trade on employment in the United States from 1995 to 2011, the authors say:
For merchandise exports and imports from China, we have found added demand of 3.7 million jobs and reduced demand of 2.0 million jobs, respectively, giving a net gain of 1.7 million jobs.
Including services trade, Feenstra and Sasahara count a much larger net gain of 4 million jobs.
Different modelling approaches give some variation of results, showing that in merchandise trade the net job gain from the China trade could have been as low as 730,000 jobs or as high as 2.7 million and for trade in all sectors from 4 million to 5.1 million jobs. But all show a net gain in jobs.
At least some of that growth will have been as a result of China’s growth stimulating global growth and thus world trade.
Previous studies have estimated that since China’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001, unleashing the ‘China shock’ on world trade, Chinese imports accounted for one-quarter of the decline in U.S. manufacturing employment and have contributed to the unusually slow employment growth following the 2008 financial crisis.
Imports from China — or anywhere — else have twin effects. They create import competition and labour-market dislocation, but also benefit domestic consumers through lower prices. Trump concentrated on the former.
But what Feenstra and Sasahara highlight is the importance of services in the United States’ global trade. Thus Trump’s emphasis on restoring manufacturing jobs, if politically salient, is economically misplaced.