Sunday, November 25, 2007

Trade is a Big Issue in Iowa

The Wall Street Journal has a story, which was run on the front page of the Des Moines Register over the weekend, about trade being an important issue in Iowa.

Iowa's anxiety stems from a mix of factors, many of which are also at play in other Midwestern swing states. By many measures, the global economy has been good for the state. Boosted by the ethanol and biofuels craze and surging demand for crops and farm equipment world-wide, Iowa's exports are up 77% over the past four years versus 50% nationally. The state's unemployment rate hovers around 3.7%, below the national 4.6% average.

But the past couple of decades have seen a steady decline in once-prized factory jobs, from a high of 252,700 in 1999 to 231,000 today. Just this year, Iowa lost about 1,800 jobs when appliance-maker Maytag, now owned by Whirlpool Corp., shuttered its plant in its home town of Newton. (The jobs moved to Ohio, but foreign competition was a key reason Maytag was acquired by Whirlpool.) Wages haven't kept pace with inflation, and employers here, as elsewhere, have been paring health and retirement benefits.

Many Iowans blame their difficulties on global trade. A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll of Iowa Democrats conducted in September found that by 42% to 33% they favored a candidate who believes trade pacts hurt the U.S. economy over one who believes they benefit the economy; Republicans were evenly split at 39%. (The balance said they didn't know or hadn't a preference.)

Earlier this month, David Sirota wrote about John Edwards and Mike Huckabee that are campaigning on the issue of trade and are seeing results in Iowa from it.

What explains the unlikely rise of these two dark horses?

It's the populism, stupid.

Huckabee and Edwards are the only two major candidates staking their campaigns on an indictment of economic inequality, corporate power and corruption. As the latest Democracy Corps poll shows, these are the very societal ills angering a middle class whose real-life struggles with stagnant wages, layoffs, debt, foreclosures and health care costs chafe against a pop culture and political system that glorify fabulous affluence. The country, in short, seems ready to embrace Huey Long's "Share Our Wealth" ethos, and these two southerners are resurrecting the best of the famed Louisiana governor's legacy.

Just look at the stump speeches.

"The most important thing a president needs to do is to make it clear that we're not going to continue to see jobs shipped overseas, jobs that are lost by American workers, many in their 50s who, for 20 and 30 years, have worked to make a company rich and then watch as a CEO takes a $100 million bonus to jettison those American jobs somewhere else," Huckabee said at a recent Republican debate. "That's criminal — it's wrong."

Edwards presents arguably the boldest challenge to the political Establishment of any major presidential candidate in contemporary history. Proposing sweeping health care, tax, trade and labor law reform, he says the only way "people who are powerful in Washington" are "going to give away their power is if we take it away from them." The system, he says, is "controlled by big corporations, the lobbyists they hire to protect their bottom line and the politicians who curry their favor and carry their water."

Huckabee and Edwards benefit from facing icons of the very problems they attack.

1 comment:

The Real Sporer said...

WTF No need, I think we have found another point of common interest.

While free trade certainly benefits the average American we also need to remember that someone has to remain behind to buy the foreign consumer goods.

A good place to start is the requirement that foreign manufactured goods meet all domestic standards. Make the importers liable and you'll quickly see either improved products or more American made products.

However, its a mixed bag. Foreign farm interests think we unfairly reduce the price of American ag products through a variety of subsidies and other non tariff barriers.