Why the Trans Pacific Partnership is Nearly Dead

How can it be
that the largest pending trade deal in history – a deal backed both by a
Democratic president and Republican leaders in Congress – is nearly dead?

The Trans
Pacific Partnership may yet squeak through Congress but its near-death
experience offers an important lesson.

It’s not that
labor unions have regained political power (union membership continues to
dwindle and large corporations have more clout in Washington than ever) or
that the President is especially weak (no president can pull off a major deal
like this if the public isn’t behind him).

The biggest lesson is
most Americans no longer support free trade.

It used to be
an article of faith that trade was good for America.

Economic theory
told us so: Trade allows nations to specialize in what they do best, thereby fueling
growth. And growth, we were told, is good for everyone.

But such
arguments are less persuasive in this era of staggering inequality.

For decades almost
all the gains from growth have been going to a small sliver of Americans at the
top – while most peoples’ wages have stagnated, adjusted for inflation.

Economists point to overall benefits from expanded trade. All of
us gain access to cheaper goods and services.

But in recent years the biggest gains from trade have gone to
investors and executives, while the burdens have fallen disproportionately on
those in the middle and below who have lost good-paying jobs.  

So even though
everyone gains from trade, the biggest winners are at the top. And as the top keeps
moving higher compared to most of the rest of us, the vast majority feels relatively worse off.

To illustrate
the point, consider a simple game I conduct with my students. I have them split up into pairs and ask them to imagine I’m giving

Originally appeared at: http://robertreich.org/post/121534364320