On October 2, 2010, the Wall Street Journal ran an article detailing the results of the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. The article was entitled "Americans Sour on Trade," but what Americans are really souring on is free trade: 53% of Americans now say that free trade agreements have hurt the United States, with less than 10% saying they have helped. The tea party is even more opposed to free trade than the general public, with 61% of tea party supporters saying that free trade agreements have hurt America.
And anti-free trade sentiment is building: in 2007, 46% of Americans said that free trade agreements have hurt the country, and in 1999 the figure was only 32%. A decade of outsourcing of professional jobs has dramatically eroded the support of wealthier Americans for free trade, with 50% of those earning over $75,000 per year now saying that free trade hurts the U. S., up from 24% in 1999. And both 83% of blue-collar workers and 95% of professionals and managers cited outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries as a factor in America's current economic downturn; no other factor was cited more.
Of course, the people are right. As Paul Craig Roberts has tersely noted, "The American economy has gone away. It is not coming back until free trade myths are buried six feet under." Unfortunately, the consensus of our bipartisan elite in favor of free trade remains strong. But at least the American electorate is no longer buying that particular bill of goods.
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.