Does free trade kills jobs and drive Americans to the poor house? Or does it enrich Americans’ lives? A professionally-trained journalist such as CNN’s Lou Dobbs should present both sides of the debate, but he’s too busy fighting a “war” to be a neutral observer.
“Free trade agreements were supposed to help this country's middle class. Instead, they've killed millions of good-paying American jobs and creating even more disparity in wages between the poor and the wealthy,” complained Dobbs on his December 6 program. The senior business reporter and author of “The War on the Middle Class” was introducing the latest dispatch by Kitty Pilgrim.
Dobbs lamented that “the Bush administration and corporate lobbyists, and now apparently members of both political parties” were “embracing a trade deal” with South Korea “that would be the largest since NAFTA.” Following Pilgrim’s report, the CNN anchor complained about “30 consecutive years of trade deficits,” as though that number was a manifestly self-evident indicator that free trade is harming America’s economy.
It’s hardly the model of balanced journalism. But Dobbs told National Public Radio’s Bob Garfield in November he is “an advocacy journalist, and I make no pretense whatsoever of so-called objectivity.” Dobbs insisted his aim was to portray America as it really is.
“The journalism I practice is based on our best efforts to obtain an independent, non-partisan reality that is shaping the lives of all Americans, and that's our commitment,” Dobbs said.
Of course, a realistic view of the world would include evidence that cuts against Dobbs’ point of view.
“If the critics of trade” like Dobbs “are correct in their assumptions, a rise in the growth of manufacturing imports should lead quite directly to a decline in the growth of manufacturing output,” wrote Dan Griswold, the director of Cato’s Center for Trade Policy Studies.
“By the same reasoning, a decline in imports should stimulate domestic output,” Griswold added. “But an analysis of manufacturing imports and output since 1989 plainly refutes this pillar of protectionist thinking.”
The bottom line is that “raising trade barriers to supposedly protect U.S. manufacturing would be a mistake” that would “save jobs in certain industries” in the short term but “at the expense of output in other, generally more competitive industries,” concluded Griswold.
In February 2001, as the U.S. economy was cooling from its rapid growth in the 1990s, Griswold argued that the trade deficit was not a weakness but “a symbol of economic strength.” At the time, the U.S. trade deficit was setting records.
Five years and an economic recovery later, CNN’s Lou Dobbs, like the U.S. trade deficit, is still just another broken record.