TPP supporters begin pushback after two hostile political conventions

Good arguments can be made for whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump netted gains or losses from the past fortnight of political conventions. Populism certainly gained momentum from both, though, and the biggest loser is almost certainly the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the signature trade deal begun by Hillary and finalized by her successor John Kerry. Delegates and speakers at both conventions openly proclaimed their hostility to TPP, and few if any voices rang out in support.

However, TPP does have its defenders outside of the White House, which thus far has been curiously passive on the subject. Politico’s Megan Cassella reports that they are gathering up surrogates, including leading American manufacturers, to push back against the prevailing populist trade winds, so to speak:

Caterpillar Inc. hosted lawmakers like Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen of Minnesota at its factories to meet face-to-face with the workers it says will gain from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Trade Benefits America, a leading business coalition, is coordinating a grassroots advertising campaign that’s currently sending members of Congress between 60 and 70 pro-TPP letters every day.

And the Association of Equipment Manufacturers is driving around the Midwest in a truck outfitted with interactive displays on trade, part of a six-figure effort it’s orchestrating to highlight the tangible benefits of the sweeping 12-nation agreement.

These advocates claim Americans by and large favor free trade. Most Americans, at least in the WaPo/Pollfish (!) poll Cassella links, don’t really think much about the issue one way or the other, but those who do tend to oppose free-trade agreements. An NBC/WSJ poll two weeks ago found the opposite, with majorities of all partisan stripes considering free trade a net positive. However, that poll also showed trade as one of the lowest issue priorities for changes in approach for both Democrats and Republicans (10% and 6%, respectively).

Mercatus Center senior fellow Daniel Griswold says that the anger over free trade is misplaced — and self-destructive:

The political anger about lost manufacturing jobs should be aimed at technology, not trade. According to a recent study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, productivity growth caused 85% of the job losses in manufacturing from 2000 to 2010, a period that saw 5.6 million factory jobs disappear. In that same period, trade accounted for a mere 13% of job losses.

In fact, globalization and trade agreements have made a huge contribution to the ongoing success of American manufacturing. Access to expanding global markets allows U.S. manufacturers to enjoy economies of scale, reducing their per-unit production costs and enhancing their competitiveness. The additional revenue can be reinvested in research and development, leading to new products and expanding market share. This is why U.S. jobs in trade-oriented industries typically pay 18% more than non-trade-connected jobs.

Imports also play a critical role in the success of U.S. manufacturing. Measured in terms of value, more than half of what Americans import each year is not for consumption but for production. Being integrated into global supply chains allows U.S. manufacturers to source more affordable parts, components, raw materials and production equipment, making their final products more competitive. Hiking up tariffs on imported steel, to cite just one of Trump’s recent proposals, would raise production costs for a broad swath of U.S. industry, from autos to appliances, making them less competitive at home and abroad. …

Global trade has put some Americans out of work. But the total numbers are small compared with the overall national job churn. Indeed, millions of U.S. jobs are eliminated each year by technology and changing consumer tastes, only to be replaced by new jobs that are being created by the same dynamic forces.

The right response to anxieties about trade is to invest more in education, retraining and enhanced labor mobility, not to pick trade fights with other nations that would put in jeopardy the success of America’s modern, competitive manufacturing sector.

Griswold’s right, but this isn’t about intellectual analysis — it’s about airing grievances. This year’s election cycle is the Festivus of politics. In this case, with considerable apathy on the issue from a broad swath of the electorate, the loudest voices will probably carry the day. And even after the convention, the loudest voices will still belong to the populists: