When it comes to talking honestly about the impact of trade on the labor market few papers flunk the test as badly as the Washington Post. It is a consistent and unreflective supporter of the pro-business trade policy that has been pursued by administrations of both parties for the last four decades.
Regular Beat the Press readers know how in an editorial defending NAFTA the paper absurdly claimed that Mexico's GDP quadrupled between 1987 and 2007. According to the I.M.F., the actual growth figure was 84.2 percent. More than ten years later the paper still has not corrected this error.
Given the paper's bias, it was not surprising to see a headline in the print edition that noted the loss of jobs over the last two decades and told readers, "it's the robots." The reason why this headline is out of line is that the article actually said the opposite. (The headline of the online version is identical, but excludes the reference to robots.)
The article is reporting on new research by Katharine Abraham and Melissa Kearney which examines the factors that might have led to the drop in employment rates since 2000. (I have not yet read the paper, but Katharine Abraham is one of the best labor economists anywhere, so I take seriously anything she does.) The article lists the factors in order of importance. It reports Abraham and Kearney's assessment:
"Abraham and Kearney estimate that this competition [from Chinese imports] cost the economy about 2.65 million jobs over the period."
The next paragraph is about robots:
"...the duo estimated that robots cost the economy another 1.4 million workers."
So Abraham and Kearney very clearly see robots as being considerably less important in causing job loss than trade. In fact, their assessment implies the impact of trade was almost twice as large as the impact of robots.
To put it as simply as possible, the Post's headline directly contradicts the information presented in the article. I suppose that Washington Post headline writers are not allowed to say anything that might reflect negatively on our patterns of trade.
And, just to be clear, this is not about pushing some seemingly noble goal like "free trade." The Post has no problem with protectionist barriers that raise the pay of doctors and keep drug prices high. This is about pushing trade policies that redistribute income upward.