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It was perhaps inevitable but it is nonetheless disappointing to see the Democratic candidates for president engaged in such energetic trade bashing (see, for example, the Washington Post’s Clinton Tests Out Populist Approach, Obama Cites NAFTA in Questioning Her Criticism of Corporate World). The New York Times, in a sensible editorial on Sunday titled It Must Be Ohio offered both an explanation for this unfortunate trend and some solid advice:

Ohio, which has lost almost a quarter of a million manufacturing jobs since 2000, is feeling the pain of globalization. Yet what the voters deserve to hear (and are unlikely to hear from the Republicans) are honest answers about how government can help them adapt. Instead, both Democratic candidates were sending out mailers last week denouncing each other’s presumed support for the 14-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.

Of course the stakes are high in Ohio and Texas (and even in Rhode Island and Vermont, which also vote on March 4). But it is precisely when the stakes are high that we would hope that candidates for president show their mettle. Obama in particular tells voters he prefers truth-telling – pointing out to Detroit automakers the dire need for higher auto-fuel economy standards, for instance. It’s too bad that he and Senator Clinton aren’t giving us similarly plain talk on the challenges of globalization, and what should and shouldn’t be done about it. In recent years global trade has helped to lift 100 million Chinese from poverty—the greatest reduction in poverty in the history of the world—and through cheap imports helped to hold down inflation, too. Would America be better-off if this had not happened?

We care about trade at CGD because we work for shared global prosperity. Expanding trade is generally win-win: countries on both sides of the deal benefit, and most of their people do, too. The real question for American leaders, as the New York Times points out, is not who is best at bashing trade but how to help those people who do lose from trade expansion to adapt. And since I’m dreaming, perhaps the candidates could begin to speak about their ideas for improving U.S. leadership on development.

Not convinced? Check out these accessible CGD resources:

And for the policy adept, two important CGD books:

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Disclaimer

CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.