There seems to be a great effort to convince people that the displacement due to the trade deficit over the last fifteen years didn't really happen. The NYT contributed to this effort with a piece telling readers that over the long-run job loss has been primarily due to automation not trade.
While the impact of automation over a long enough period of time certainly swamps the impact of trade, over the last 20 years there is little doubt that the impact of the exploding trade deficit has had more of an impact on employment. To make this one as simple as possible, we currently have a trade deficit of roughly $460 billion (@ 2.6 percent of GDP). Suppose we had balanced trade instead, making up this gap with increased manufacturing output.
Does the NYT want to tell us that we could increase our output of manufactured goods by $460 billion, or just under 30 percent, without employing more workers in manufacturing? That would be pretty impressive. We currently employ more than 12 million workers in manufacturing, if moving to balanced trade increase employment by just 15 percent we would be talking about 1.8 million jobs. That is not trivial.
But this is not the only part of the story that is strange. We are getting hyped up fears over automation even at a time when productivity growth (i.e. automation) has slowed to a crawl, averaging just 1.0 percent annually over the last decade. The NYT tells readers:
"Over time, automation has generally had a happy ending: As it has displaced jobs, it has created new ones. But some experts are beginning to worry that this time could be different. Even as the economy has improved, jobs and wages for a large segment of workers — particularly men without college degrees doing manual labor — have not recovered."
Hmmm, this time could be different? How so? The average hourly wage of men with just a high school degree was 13 percent less in 2000 than in 1973. For workers with some college it was down by more than 2.0 percent. In fact, stagnating wages for men without college degrees is not something new and different, it has been going on for more than forty years. Hasn't this news gotten to the NYT yet?