Thus, the typical exchange at a Congressional hearing (or your local watering hole) goes something like this:
Congressman/Bartender: Want to me to support this FTA? Well, then tell me how many jobs it's going to bring to my district/town.Seriously, is it any wonder why the poll numbers on trade routinely stink? Unfortunately, today's economic environment has exponentially increased the political pressure to tie trade (or any other) policies to specific job numbers, so the disadvantage that free traders face in the political arena is even more acute than ever.
Naive free trader: Well, sir, free trade really isn't about creating more jobs, it's about productivity gains, creative destruction and better jobs, and, of course, it's about expanding the freedom of the American people to choose how and with whom they do business, rather than forcibly limiting that freedom in order to benefit a select group of well-connected producers and unions.
Angry Protectionist: The FTA will destroy 734.6 jobs.
That's why a new study in the European Economic Review called "Trade and Unemployment: What Do the Data Say?" could be a really great new resource for those seeking to advocate free trade policies using intellectually honest arguments. According to the study's authors, there is strong empirical evidence that nations that trade more - through exports and imports - have lower long-term unemployment. Here's the paper's abstract (emphasis mine):
This paper documents a robust empirical regularity: in the long-run, higher trade openness is associated with a lower structural rate of unemployment. We establish this fact using: (i) panel data from 20 OECD countries, (ii) cross-sectional data on a larger set of countries. The time structure of the panel data allows us to control for unobserved heterogeneity, whereas cross-sectional data make it possible to instrument openness by its geographical component. In both setups, we purge the data of business cycle effects, include a host of institutional and geographical variables, and control for within-country trade. Our main finding is robust to various definitions of unemployment rates and openness measures. Our benchmark specification suggests that a 10 percentage point increase in total trade openness reduces aggregate unemployment by about three quarters of one percentage point.Did you get that? Ok, me neither. Fortunately, Reason Magazine's Ronald Bailey translates this nerdspeak into regular English for us regular folk:
[The study] forthrightly asks the question: Does exposure to international trade create or destroy jobs? Their answer strongly backs the observation made by Franklin more than 230 years ago. “A 10 percent increase in total trade openness reduces aggregate unemployment by about three quarters of one percentage point,” they conclude. To be a bit more precise, they find, “A 10 percentage point increase lowers the equilibrium rate of unemployment by about 0.76 percentage points.” Trade creates jobs.In short, the study's authors have demonstrated through oodles of hard data that all the increased productivity and long-term economic growth caused by trade ends up eventually translating into not only better jobs, but also more jobs. (And please note that trade deficits and surpluses don't matter - what does matter is total trade, regardless of the "balance.")
In general, the higher a country’s volume of international trade, the higher is its degree of openness. Trade openness is generally measured by adding together the value of both exports and imports and dividing that sum by total gross domestic product (GDP). Crudely, let’s say an economy imports $10 billion annually and exports $10 billion annually and has a total GDP of $100 billion. That would yield a trade openness index figure of 20 percent. Another country with a GDP of $100 billion exports $15 billion and imports $15 billion, yielding a trade openness index of 30 percent.
Roughly speaking, U.S. GDP was $15 trillion in 2010, and exports and imports combined totaled just over $4 trillion, yielding a trade openness index figure of 27 percent. Without going into detail, the European economists derive a real trade openness index by taking differing price levels among countries into account.
The researchers then compare the relative trade openness of 20 developed countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development with their unemployment rates over time. They take into account other factors such as union membership, national employment protection policies, tax rates on wages, and the generosity of unemployment insurance....
The researchers go on to analyze the effect of freer trade on a selection of 62 developing countries. They take into account features like the size of the black market economy and whether a country is landlocked or not. Again, they find that openness to trade boosts employment, concluding that “the effect of a 10 percentage point increase in openness lowers unemployment by about 1 percentage point.”
So why does free trade create more jobs? The study suggests that freer trade boosts overall productivity, enabling companies to hire more workers. Trade enhances competition which weeds out inefficient firms and allows more productive ones to expand. As the average efficiency of firms in a country increases, they can earn more revenues by boosting production. And that leads to hiring additional workers.
Pretty cool, huh? Actually, it's more than cool - it's a very, very helpful little nugget for the upcoming congressional debate over pending US trade agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama, which will doubtlessly increase total trade by eliminating barriers on goods and services traded between the countries involved.
Now, let's go back to our earlier hypothetical:
Congressman/Bartender: Want to me to support this FTA? Well, then tell me how many jobs it's going to bring to my district/town.Much, much better.
Emboldened free trader: Well, sir, countries that trade more have significantly lower unemployment than those that don't, and this FTA will inevitably increase US trade with Korea/Colombia/Panama. And, of course, free trade is also about expanding the freedom of the American people to choose how and with whom they do business, rather than forcibly limiting that freedom in order to benefit a select group of well-connected producers and unions.
Angry Protectionist: The FTA will, umm, destroy 734.6 jobs. Hey, stop laughing at me. Seriously, stop. That's not cool.
UPDATE: In a case of crazy coincidence, Cato's Dan Griswold just published a new blog post on the latest bogus "jobs" study.