Yes to free trade, but improve trade adjustment assistance, says Whitman in The Conversation

October 25, 2016

"If there’s one thing that nearly all economists agree on, it’s that getting rid of trade restrictions is generally good for a country’s economy," says Marina v.N. Whitman in her October 24 piece for The Conversation, “Want to help free trade’s losers? Make ‘adjustment assistance’ more than just burial insurance.”

What has made free trade such a “political pariah” in the current election season? Whitman claims the disconnect stems from the fact that there are winners and losers: “The winners may be far more numerous, yet the impact on the losers, from lost jobs and lower wages, is more intense and personal.”

The solution, Whitman says, is not to tear up free trade agreements, but rather to work harder to ensure U.S. workers are not left behind. This “starts with crafting policies that encourage a more flexible labor force, while at the same time providing a safety net for those who have to do the flexing.” Whitman goes on to suggest specific reforms, including improved training and expanded wage assistance. 

Marina v.N. Whitman is a professor of business administration and public policy at the University of Michigan. Professor Whitman served as a member of the President's Council of Economic Advisers from 1972-73 and as vice president and chief economist of General Motors Corporation from 1979-92.