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Steve Chapman: “It's A Scam, Skillfully Pitched To Fool The Gullible”
Conservative Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman joined a chorus of media and policy experts from across the political spectrum in criticizing Donald Trump’s promise to bring back American manufacturing jobs by curbing free trade.
Chapman slammed Trump on June 29 in the Chicago Tribune for the policies Trump outlined in a speech on trade one day earlier. Trump advocated against globalization and the lowering of trade barriers brought about by free trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and World Trade Organization (WTO). Trump referred to his trade policy ideas as a path toward “Declaring America’s Economic Independence,” which he claimed would lead to increased economic activity that would “Make America Wealthy Again.”
Chapman chided Trump’s simplistic look at global commerce, saying, “It's a scam, skillfully pitched to fool the gullible,” and echoed criticism of Trump from economist and Economic Policy Institute (EPI) president Lawrence Mishel. While Mishel criticized Trump for whitewashing the Republican Party’s free trade legacy and ignoring progressive initiatives that would benefit American workers, Chapman pointed out that manufacturing output in the United States is actually “54 percent higher today” than it was when NAFTA went into effect in 1994 and “27 percent higher” than it was before China joined the WTO in 2001. Progressive organizations like EPI have highlighted the negative consequences that free trade arrangements have had on the American labor market -- specifically with regard to NAFTA and China -- but as Chapman notes, part of the decline in manufacturing employment is the result of greater efficiencies in production stemming from automation and technological advances; “companies have learned to produce more goods with fewer people.” From the Chicago Tribune (emphasis added):
The vision Trump conjures is one of alluring simplicity. He promises to achieve "economic independence" by abandoning globalization, instead using American workers to produce American goods. This change, he said, would "create massive numbers of jobs" and "make America wealthy again."
It's a scam, skillfully pitched to fool the gullible. His framework is a house of cards built on sand in a wind tunnel. Its most noticeable feature is a total divorce from basic economic realities.
In the first place, the expansion of manufacturing jobs is not synonymous with prosperity. As countries grow richer, manufacturing's share of employment declines. South Korea, singled out by Trump for killing American jobs, has seen it shrink by nearly half since 1991. Japan and Germany have followed a similar path.
But U.S. manufacturing output is 54 percent higher today than in 1994 and 27 percent higher than in 2001. Those years are pertinent because 1994 was the year NAFTA took effect and 2001 is the year China gained entry to the World Trade Organization — events Trump portrays as catastrophic for American industry.
Manufacturing jobs have vanished not because we don't manufacture anything but because companies have learned to produce more goods with fewer people. Higher productivity is what eliminated most of the jobs Trump mourns. He's no more capable of restoring them than he is of bringing back the dodo.
Blaming Mexico and China for the fate of our steel industry is like blaming email for the decline of telegrams. The biggest reduction in steel jobs came before the globalization of the past two decades. The number fell from 450,000 to 210,000 in the 1980s.
The total today is about 150,000. Even if Trump could manage the impossible feat of doubling the number of steelmaking jobs, it would be a blip in the overall economy — which adds more jobs than that every month.
The Economic Policy Institute Wants Nothing To Do With Trump's "Scam"
According to The Washington Post, the progressive economic think tank Donald Trump repeatedly cited during a recent speech on his trade policy agenda is slamming the presumptive Republican presidential nominee for distorting the facts and ignoring other initiatives that would boost the economy -- all in an attempt to “scam” hard-working Americans.
During a June 28 speech at a metal recycling facility in Monessen, PA, Trump outlined a trade and manufacturing policy agenda that draws heavily from research performed by the progressive Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Washington Post reporter Greg Sargent was first to report that EPI president Lawrence Mishel rebuked Trump’s agenda for misleading the public on globalization and wage stagnation -- by blaming our trade policies for flat wages and fewer jobs -- while ignoring progressive initiatives like lifting the minimum wage, expanding overtime protections, and increasing union membership (emphasis added):
So it’s worth noting that the EPI — in a lengthy statement sent my way — now says that Trump’s account of what has happened to American workers in recent decades is simplistic in the extreme; that Trump is actually a lot more friendly to GOP economic orthodoxy than most observers have noted; and that Trump’s actual prescriptions fall laughably short of what needs to be done to help those workers.
Trump boasted in his speech that “under a Trump presidency, the American worker will finally have a president who will protect them and fight for them,” and repeatedly accused Clinton and other politicians supported by financial elites of “betraying” American workers by prioritizing globalization over their interests.
But Lawrence Mishel, the president of the EPI, sent me a critique of the speech. Mishel noted that Trump’s account suggests that only government officials — particularly the Clinton administration and Democrats who supported trade deals such as NAFTA — are to blame for flat wages. He argued that Trump conspicuously left out the role of Republicans in this whole tale, as well as the business community’s use of its power to keep wages down and erode countervailing power on the part of labor.
As Sargent and Mishel note, Trump has appropriated a populist tone on international free trade agreements, but his other stated positions on tax and economic policy decidedly favor the corporatist right wing. The incongruity of Trump’s positions led Mishel to conclude his response by labeling Trump’s speech for what it was: “a scam.”
For months, Media Matters has documented how media have tended to gloss over Trump’s extremist positions with a misleading “populist” veneer. According to reports, his top economic policy advisers are discredited right-wing pundits Stephen Moore and Larry Kudlow -- known for their strict adherence to trickle-down economics, their willingness to distort reality for political gain, and their rank professional incompetence. Last September, right-wing media falsely labeled Trump’s tax reform plans a “populist” agenda when it was actually a budget-busting giveaway to the rich that wilted upon closer inspection. In April, experts slammed Trump’s proposal to eliminate the national debt in just eight years as “impossible” and “psychotic.” In May, Trump was criticized for his “insane” plan to default on U.S. federal debt, and then for his “disastrous” suggestion that the U.S. could solve its long-term debt problems by printing money.
Even in the case of free trade, Trump’s rhetoric may be populist, but experts and media critics argue that his positions are untenable. As CNN’s Ali Velshi pointed on during the June 29 edition of New Day, Trump’s attempt to solely blame the Clinton administration for jobs lost to globalization was “highly dishonest.” On the May 6 edition of New Day, CNN analyst Rana Foroohar slammed Trump’s nascent trade agenda as being “either a bad idea, or impossible.” (Furthermore, Trump’s penchant for comparing trade deals to the horrifying violence of “rape” leaves him far outside the rational mainstream of political discourse.)
As Sargent noted, Trump’s June 28 policy speech seemed to be an attempt “to stake out positions on trade and wages that are … perhaps even to the left of Hillary Clinton and Democrats.” MSNBC political reporter Benjy Sarlin and Fortune politics writer Ben Geier both argued in June 29 articles that the speech was an overt attempt by the GOP front-runner to court supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the runner-up in the Democratic presidential primary. Trump even quoted a common refrain from Sanders’ own stump speeches during a series of attacks on Clinton, saying she “voted for virtually every trade agreement that has cost the workers of this country millions, millions of jobs” -- a claim that PolitiFact labels as “half true” at best.
Given his previous extremist economic positions, Trump’s statements on trade -- which were chided by both the right-leaning U.S. Chamber of Commerce and left-leaning labor unions including the AFL-CIO -- seem to be born not of conviction, but rather of expedience.
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On June 25, 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) into law and established the first nationwide minimum hourly wage. The relative value of the minimum wage has fluctuated considerably over time, but it has steadily eroded since reaching an inflation-adjusted peak in 1968 -- the $1.60 per hour wage that year would be worth roughly $11.05 today. For several years, in the face of a growing movement to lift local, state, and federal minimum wages to a livable standard, right-wing media opponents have frequently promoted a number of misleading and discredited myths about the minimum wage’s economic effects.
Fox & Friends co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade cherry-picked new economic data to attack President Obama over the difference in median household income between now and the year 2000, but they failed to mention that median household income is still going up since it crashed after the Great Recession.
Doocy and Kilmeade blasted Obama on the economy over new median household income data on the June 10 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, but they failed to mention that recent incomes have risen year to year. Seizing on pre-recession data, Kilmeade noted that median household income is down from 2000, when the annual household median income was $57,342 in 2016 dollars. Although Fox & Friends pointed out that this is $79 more than 2016’s median household income of $57,263, the co-hosts did not note that the 2016 figure is still an increase of $2,409 from last year, continuing the post-recession upward trajectory.
Doocy also criticized the president for not getting gross domestic product growth up to 3 percent during his tenure, falsely claiming, “President Obama has been historic … because no U.S. president has ever not had 3 percent growth in a single year.” Doocy’s bizarre claim is wrong: Republican President Herbert Hoover not only never hit 3 percent growth, but he failed to hit zero percent growth, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).
The bureau has consistent annual data from 1930 to the present. Because of the Great Depression, the economy contracted at a rate of 8.5 percent in 1930, 6.4 percent in 1931, a staggering 12.9 percent in 1932, and 1.3 percent in 1933. The contraction in 1933 may have been even greater, had Franklin Delano Roosevelt not replaced Hoover in the White House in March of that year, and chosen to initiate the substantial government stimulus projects known as the New Deal. Hoover is also not the only example that disproves Doocy’s claim -- reliable GDP estimates prior to 1930 are difficult to find, but available data show four consecutive presidents overseeing economic growth of less than 2 percent from 1871 to 1885.
Fox & Friends has pushed conservative misinformation on the economy before, sticking to a right-wing script reported on in an April 28 blog post by Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman. Waldman explained how Republicans mislead the American public about the health of the economy by ignoring positive economic trends. The focus of Waldman’s comparison was the “objective reality” of progress and areas for improvement specified by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the “laughable fantasy” of “an absolute [economic] nightmare” outlined by Republican front-runner Donald Trump, but it could have just as easily been any of the personalities at Fox News. The June 10 Fox & Friends segment that misled on median household income is just another example of right-wing media sticking to the script.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) and the Republican-led Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility released the GOP’s latest policy plan to cut government anti-poverty assistance programs. Many of the arguments in favor of Ryan’s proposed reforms are based on easily debunked right-wing media myths and poor-shaming. Ryan’s rhetoric in this poverty “reform” agenda -- titled “A Better Way to Fight Poverty” -- is gentler than in his previous policy proposals. But his plans are still based on myths, and his solutions once again are focused on gutting vital programs designed to assist Americans struggling to make ends meet and families in need.
Ryan’s Agenda To Lift Americans Out Of Poverty Skips Over Raising Sub-Poverty Minimum Wages
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) concluded a June 7 press conference meant to highlight his recent proposals to reform federal anti-poverty programs by confirming that he remains opposed to initiatives aimed at raising local, state, and federal minimum wages. Ryan’s stated opposition to the minimum wage recycles easily debunked right-wing media myths about the supposed negative side-effects of living wages.
On June 7, the speaker released a report from the Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility. The plan outlines a number of standard conservative proposals to “reform” anti-poverty programs in the United States, but one thing it almost completely ignores is the minimum wage. In fact, the lone mention of the word “minimum wage” appears as part of an argument pushing the debunked “Welfare Cliff” myth, the claim that low-income, single moms are so heavily subsidized by government benefits that they have no incentive to pursue professional advancement.
At the conclusion of his press conference, Ryan was asked by two reporters to comment on a plan in Washington, D.C. to raise the municipal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020 and then index it to inflation. In just over a minute, Ryan proceeded to parrot numerous debunked charges commonly leveled against the minimum wage by right-wing antagonists. From CNN Newsroom:
Ryan’s anti-minimum wage talking points are either misleading, or outright false. Ryan also missed basic facts of D.C.’s minimum wage initiative, which the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) estimates will result in increased wages for one-fifth of the city’s private sector workers.
Ryan claimed that raising the minimum wage “prices entry-level jobs away from people” before engaging in the common right-wing media tactic of reciting a story of his own youthful experiences working in the fast-food industry.
Right-wing media frequently claim that minimum wage positions are meant to be entry-level jobs (usually just for teenagers), but the fact is that the majority of minimum wage workers are adults over the age of 25 and less than one-quarter of minimum wage workers are aged 16 to 19. Women make up a disproportionate number of minimum wage workers, and according to July 2015 research from EPI, stand to benefit considerably from an increased minimum wage.
Ryan claimed that working at McDonald’s was “a great way to learn skills,” a wage and job mobility myth about fast food workers frequently parroted by right-wing media. But according to a July 2013 report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), the fast-food industry is particularly bad at providing actual opportunities for advancement to low-wage workers. Entry-level workers account for 89 percent of fast food industry workers, and only a tiny fraction move on to management or ownership positions.
Ryan concluded his remarks by saying that he does not want to “cap” wages, he wants to “unleash” them, and institute policies that create “the kind of economy, and economic growth … that help get people better jobs, in a better economy, that has a more promising future for them.” Those claims echo a common right-wing media myth, that economic growth can indirectly lift millions of Americans out of poverty without the need for targeted programs.
But the budget, economic, and tax proposals Ryan and his fellow Republicans repeatedly support do not generate the economic growth they promise. The trickle-down economic principles he has spent a career endorsing are a proven failure.
If economic growth alone was the key to solving poverty and reducing economic inequality, both would have been wiped out decades ago. According to a January 29 report from the Brookings Institution, the relationship between economic growth and improved economic inclusion is “relatively weak” across the United States. The Brookings research seems to support a hypothesis endorsed by economists Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) and Elise Gould of the EPI, who argue that economic growth alone is not enough to reduce economic insecurity in the face of persistent inequality.
Media Should Question The Speaker And Presumptive GOP Nominee About The Compatibility Of Their Poverty Proposals
Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) have engaged in a war of words regarding Trump’s racist attack on the federal judge presiding over two class action lawsuits against Trump University. Despite the recent infighting, Trump and Ryan seem to agree in principle on the latter’s vision for a complete overhaul of federal anti-poverty programs. Reporters need to ask the Republican nominee, and the speaker, if the Ryan reform agenda is truly Trump-endorsed.
During an appearance on the June 5 edition of CBS’ Face the Nation, host John Dickerson asked Trump to comment on Ryan’s June 2 endorsement of his presidential candidacy. Trump responded that he found Ryan “appealing” because “he’s a good man” who “wants good things for the country.” Trump said that he expected to “agree on many things” with the highest-ranking elected Republican in the country, specifically citing Ryan’s positions on poverty:
Trump’s decision to bring up Ryan’s supposed zeal to “take people out of poverty” was no accident, as it had been widely reported that the speaker planned to roll out his renewed poverty reform agenda in the coming days. On June 7, Ryan released a report from the so-called Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility.
The report was nothing new for Ryan, closely echoing the positions espoused during the speaker’s sham poverty forum in January and his appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in March. It struck a softer tone than the overt poor-shaming Ryan has promoted in the past, but it still pushed the same kinds of policies that MSNBC’s Steve Benen previously slammed as “brutal” for the poor.
During Ryan’s June 7 press conference announcing the proposed poverty program reforms, he repeatedly stated that his plan would have “a better likelihood of passing” if Trump were president of the United States. From the June 7 edition of CNN Newsroom:
Media outlets are notorious for stumbling into the role of Ryan’s public relations outfit, frequently portraying his budget, economic, and tax reform policies as serious proposals rather than right-wing agenda items. The instinct to treat Ryan as a voice of reason has been particularly pronounced since the speaker decided to zero in on poverty.
Ryan has now formally endorsed Trump for president, and Trump has tacitly endorsed Ryan’s proposed reforms. Now that the final plan has been made public, reporters need to ask Trump if he actually endorses Ryan’s plan. And they should ask Ryan if he can accept the endorsement of a man whom he just accused of engaging in “the textbook definition of a racist comment” with his attacks on a Hispanic federal judge.
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With Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan slated to release a new proposal to “reform” American anti-poverty programs on June 7, media should be aware of his long history of promoting “far-right” and “backward-looking” policies that would enact draconian cuts to vital programs for families in need and actually "exacerbate poverty, inequality, and wage stagnation."
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