What Nike, Obama and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Have in Common

TonyV3112 /

TonyV3112 /

This post originally ran on Robert Reich’s web page.

The President is angry at Democrats who won’t support this trade deal.

He should be angry at Republicans who haven’t supported American workers. Their obduracy has worsened the potential impact of the deal.  

Congressional Republicans have refused to raise the minimum wage (whose inflation-adjusted value is now almost 25 percent lower than it was in 1968), expand unemployment benefits, invest in job training, enlarge the Earned Income Tax Credit, improve the nation’s infrastructure, or expand access to public higher education.

They’ve embraced budget austerity that has slowed job and wage growth. And they’ve continued to push “trickle-down” economics – keeping tax rates low for America’s richest, protecting their tax loopholes, and fighting off any attempt to raise taxes on wealthy inheritances to their level before 2000.

Now they – and the president – want a huge trade agreement that protects corporate investors but will lead to even more off-shoring of low-skilled American jobs.

The Trans Pacific Trade Partnership’s investor protections will make it safer for firms to relocate abroad – the Cato Institute describes such protections as “lowering the risk premium” on offshoring – thereby reducing corporate incentives to keep jobs in America and upgrade the skills of Americans.

Those same investor protections will allow global corporations to sue the United States or any other country that raises its health, safety, environmental, or labor standards, for any lost profits due to those standards.

But there’s nothing in the deal to protect the incomes of Americans.

We know that when Americans displaced from manufacturing jobs join the glut of Americans competing for jobs that can’t be replaced by lower-wage workers abroad – personal service jobs in retail, restaurant, hotel, hospital, child care, and elder care – all lower-skilled workers face downward pressure on wages.

Jobs being lost to imports pay Americans higher wages than the jobs left behind Government data show wages in import-competing industries (e.g. manufacturing jobs) beat those in exporting industries overall.

Without a higher minimum wage, an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, affordable higher education, and a world-class system of job retraining – financed by higher taxes on the wealthy winners in the American economy – most Americans will continue to experience stagnant or declining wages.

Instead, the Trans Pacific Partnership – which includes twelve nations, including Vietnam, but would be open for every nation to join – would lock us into an expanded version of the very policies that have failed most American for the past twenty years.

No doubt Nike is supporting the TPP. It would allow Nike to import its Vietnamese and Malaysian-made goods more cheaply. But don’t expect those savings to translate into lower prices for American consumers. As it is, Nike spends less than $10 for every pair of $100-plus shoes it sells in the U.S.

Needless to say, the TPP wouldn’t require Nike to pay its Vietnamese workers more. Nikes’ workers are not paid enough to buy the shoes they make much less buy U.S. exported goods.

Nike may be the perfect example of life under TPP, but that is not a future many Americans would choose. 

Robert Reich
Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the…
Robert Reich

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