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Principles of Microeconomics for AP® Courses 2e

20.2 International Trade and Its Effects on Jobs, Wages, and Working Conditions

Principles of Microeconomics for AP® Courses 2e20.2 International Trade and Its Effects on Jobs, Wages, and Working Conditions
  1. Preface
  2. 1 Welcome to Economics!
    1. Introduction
    2. 1.1 What Is Economics, and Why Is It Important?
    3. 1.2 Microeconomics and Macroeconomics
    4. 1.3 How Economists Use Theories and Models to Understand Economic Issues
    5. 1.4 How To Organize Economies: An Overview of Economic Systems
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  3. 2 Choice in a World of Scarcity
    1. Introduction to Choice in a World of Scarcity
    2. 2.1 How Individuals Make Choices Based on Their Budget Constraint
    3. 2.2 The Production Possibilities Frontier and Social Choices
    4. 2.3 Confronting Objections to the Economic Approach
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  4. 3 Demand and Supply
    1. Introduction to Demand and Supply
    2. 3.1 Demand, Supply, and Equilibrium in Markets for Goods and Services
    3. 3.2 Shifts in Demand and Supply for Goods and Services
    4. 3.3 Changes in Equilibrium Price and Quantity: The Four-Step Process
    5. 3.4 Price Ceilings and Price Floors
    6. 3.5 Demand, Supply, and Efficiency
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Problems
  5. 4 Labor and Financial Markets
    1. Introduction to Labor and Financial Markets
    2. 4.1 Demand and Supply at Work in Labor Markets
    3. 4.2 Demand and Supply in Financial Markets
    4. 4.3 The Market System as an Efficient Mechanism for Information
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  6. 5 Elasticity
    1. Introduction to Elasticity
    2. 5.1 Price Elasticity of Demand and Price Elasticity of Supply
    3. 5.2 Polar Cases of Elasticity and Constant Elasticity
    4. 5.3 Elasticity and Pricing
    5. 5.4 Elasticity in Areas Other Than Price
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  7. 6 Consumer Choices
    1. Introduction to Consumer Choices
    2. 6.1 Consumption Choices
    3. 6.2 How Changes in Income and Prices Affect Consumption Choices
    4. 6.3 Labor-Leisure Choices
    5. 6.4 Intertemporal Choices in Financial Capital Markets
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  8. 7 Production, Costs and Industry Structure
    1. Introduction to Production, Costs, and Industry Structure
    2. 7.1 Explicit and Implicit Costs, and Accounting and Economic Profit
    3. 7.2 Production in the Short Run
    4. 7.3 Costs in the Short Run
    5. 7.4 Production in the Long Run
    6. 7.5 Costs in the Long Run
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Problems
  9. 8 Perfect Competition
    1. Introduction to Perfect Competition
    2. 8.1 Perfect Competition and Why It Matters
    3. 8.2 How Perfectly Competitive Firms Make Output Decisions
    4. 8.3 Entry and Exit Decisions in the Long Run
    5. 8.4 Efficiency in Perfectly Competitive Markets
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  10. 9 Monopoly
    1. Introduction to a Monopoly
    2. 9.1 How Monopolies Form: Barriers to Entry
    3. 9.2 How a Profit-Maximizing Monopoly Chooses Output and Price
    4. Key Terms
    5. Key Concepts and Summary
    6. Self-Check Questions
    7. Review Questions
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Problems
  11. 10 Monopolistic Competition and Oligopoly
    1. Introduction to Monopolistic Competition and Oligopoly
    2. 10.1 Monopolistic Competition
    3. 10.2 Oligopoly
    4. Key Terms
    5. Key Concepts and Summary
    6. Self-Check Questions
    7. Review Questions
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Problems
  12. 11 Monopoly and Antitrust Policy
    1. Introduction to Monopoly and Antitrust Policy
    2. 11.1 Corporate Mergers
    3. 11.2 Regulating Anticompetitive Behavior
    4. 11.3 Regulating Natural Monopolies
    5. 11.4 The Great Deregulation Experiment
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  13. 12 Environmental Protection and Negative Externalities
    1. Introduction to Environmental Protection and Negative Externalities
    2. 12.1 The Economics of Pollution
    3. 12.2 Command-and-Control Regulation
    4. 12.3 Market-Oriented Environmental Tools
    5. 12.4 The Benefits and Costs of U.S. Environmental Laws
    6. 12.5 International Environmental Issues
    7. 12.6 The Tradeoff between Economic Output and Environmental Protection
    8. Key Terms
    9. Key Concepts and Summary
    10. Self-Check Questions
    11. Review Questions
    12. Critical Thinking Questions
    13. Problems
  14. 13 Positive Externalities and Public Goods
    1. Introduction to Positive Externalities and Public Goods
    2. 13.1 Why the Private Sector Underinvests in Innovation
    3. 13.2 How Governments Can Encourage Innovation
    4. 13.3 Public Goods
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  15. 14 Poverty and Economic Inequality
    1. Introduction to Poverty and Economic Inequality
    2. 14.1 Drawing the Poverty Line
    3. 14.2 The Poverty Trap
    4. 14.3 The Safety Net
    5. 14.4 Income Inequality: Measurement and Causes
    6. 14.5 Government Policies to Reduce Income Inequality
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Problems
  16. 15 Labor Markets and Income
    1. Introduction to Labor Markets and Income
    2. 15.1 Market Power on the Supply Side of Labor Markets: Unions
    3. 15.2 Employment Discrimination
    4. 15.3 Immigration
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  17. 16 Information, Risk, and Insurance
    1. Introduction to Information, Risk, and Insurance
    2. 16.1 The Problem of Imperfect Information and Asymmetric Information
    3. 16.2 Insurance and Imperfect Information
    4. Key Terms
    5. Key Concepts and Summary
    6. Self-Check Questions
    7. Review Questions
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Problems
  18. 17 Financial Markets
    1. Introduction to Financial Markets
    2. 17.1 How Businesses Raise Financial Capital
    3. 17.2 How Households Supply Financial Capital
    4. 17.3 How to Accumulate Personal Wealth
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  19. 18 Public Economy
    1. Introduction to Public Economy
    2. 18.1 Voter Participation and Costs of Elections
    3. 18.2 Special Interest Politics
    4. 18.3 Flaws in the Democratic System of Government
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  20. 19 International Trade
    1. Introduction to International Trade
    2. 19.1 Absolute and Comparative Advantage
    3. 19.2 What Happens When a Country Has an Absolute Advantage in All Goods
    4. 19.3 Intra-industry Trade between Similar Economies
    5. 19.4 The Benefits of Reducing Barriers to International Trade
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  21. 20 Globalization and Protectionism
    1. Introduction to Globalization and Protectionism
    2. 20.1 Protectionism: An Indirect Subsidy from Consumers to Producers
    3. 20.2 International Trade and Its Effects on Jobs, Wages, and Working Conditions
    4. 20.3 Arguments in Support of Restricting Imports
    5. 20.4 How Governments Enact Trade Policy: Globally, Regionally, and Nationally
    6. 20.5 The Tradeoffs of Trade Policy
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Problems
  22. A | The Use of Mathematics in Principles of Economics
  23. B | Indifference Curves
  24. C | Present Discounted Value
  25. Answer Key
    1. Chapter 1
    2. Chapter 2
    3. Chapter 3
    4. Chapter 4
    5. Chapter 5
    6. Chapter 6
    7. Chapter 7
    8. Chapter 8
    9. Chapter 9
    10. Chapter 10
    11. Chapter 11
    12. Chapter 12
    13. Chapter 13
    14. Chapter 14
    15. Chapter 15
    16. Chapter 16
    17. Chapter 17
    18. Chapter 18
    19. Chapter 19
    20. Chapter 20
  26. References
  27. Index

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Discuss how international trade influences the job market
  • Analyze the opportunity cost of protectionism
  • Explain how international trade impacts wages, labor standards, and working conditions

In theory at least, imports might injure workers in several different ways: fewer jobs, lower wages, or poor working conditions. Let’s consider these in turn.

Fewer Jobs?

In the early 1990s, the United States was negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico, an agreement that reduced tariffs, import quotas, and nontariff barriers to trade between the United States, Mexico, and Canada. H. Ross Perot, a 1992 candidate for U.S. president, claimed, in prominent campaign arguments, that if the United States expanded trade with Mexico, there would be a “giant sucking sound” as U.S. employers relocated to Mexico to take advantage of lower wages. After all, average wages in Mexico were, at that time, about one-eighth of those in the United States. NAFTA passed Congress, President Bill Clinton signed it into law, and it took effect in 1995. For the next six years, the United States economy had some of the most rapid job growth and low unemployment in its history. Those who feared that open trade with Mexico would lead to a dramatic decrease in jobs were proven wrong.

This result was no surprise to economists. After all, the trend toward globalization has been going on for decades, not just since NAFTA. If trade did reduce the number of available jobs, then the United States should have been seeing a steady loss of jobs for decades. While the United States economy does experience rises and falls in unemployment rates—according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from spring 2007 to late 2009, the unemployment rate rose from 4.4% to 10%. It has since fallen back to under 5% as of the end of 2016—the number of jobs is not falling over extended periods of time. The number of U.S. jobs rose from 71 million in 1970 to 145 million in 2014.

Protectionism certainly saves jobs in the specific industry being protected but, for two reasons, it costs jobs in other unprotected industries. First, if consumers are paying higher prices to the protected industry, they inevitably have less money to spend on goods from other industries, and so jobs are lost in those other industries. Second, if a firm sells the protected product to other firms, so that other firms must now pay a higher price for a key input, then those firms will lose sales to foreign producers who do not need to pay the higher price. Lost sales translate into lost jobs. The hidden opportunity cost of using protectionism to save jobs in one industry is jobs sacrificed in other industries. This is why the United States International Trade Commission, in its study of barriers to trade, predicts that reducing trade barriers would not lead to an overall loss of jobs. Protectionism reshuffles jobs from industries without import protections to industries that are protected from imports, but it does not create more jobs.

Moreover, the costs of saving jobs through protectionism can be very high. A number of different studies have attempted to estimate the cost to consumers in higher prices per job saved through protectionism. Table 20.2 shows a sample of results, compiled by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Saving a job through protectionism typically costs much more than the actual worker’s salary. For example, a study published in 2002 compiled evidence that using protectionism to save an average job in the textile and apparel industry would cost $199,000 per job saved. In other words, those workers could have been paid $100,000 per year to be unemployed and the cost would only be half of what it is to keep them working in the textile and apparel industry. This result is not unique to textiles and apparel.

Industry Protected with Import Tariffs or Quotas Annual Cost per Job Saved
Sugar $826,000
Polyethylene resins $812,000
Dairy products $685,000
Frozen concentrated orange juice $635,000
Ball bearings $603,000
Machine tools $479,000
Women’s handbags $263,000
Glassware $247,000
Apparel and textiles $199,000
Rubber footwear $168,000
Women’s nonathletic footwear $139,000
Table 20.2 Cost to U.S. Consumers of Saving a Job through Protectionism (Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas)

Why does it cost so much to save jobs through protectionism? The basic reason is that not all of the extra money that consumers pay because of tariffs or quotas goes to save jobs. For example, if the government imposes tariffs on steel imports so that steel buyers pay a higher price, U.S. steel companies earn greater profits, buy more equipment, pay bigger bonuses to managers, give pay raises to existing employees—and also avoid firing some additional workers. Only part of the higher price of protected steel goes toward saving jobs. Also, when an industry is protected, the economy as a whole loses the benefits of playing to its comparative advantage—in other words, producing what it is best at. Therefore, part of the higher price that consumers pay for protected goods is lost economic efficiency, which we can measure as another deadweight loss, like what we discussed in Labor and Financial Markets.

There’s a bumper sticker that speaks to the threat some U.S. workers feel from imported products: “Buy American—Save U.S. Jobs.” If an economist were driving the car, the sticker might declare: “Block Imports—Save Jobs for Some Americans, Lose Jobs for Other Americans, and Also Pay High Prices.”

Trade and Wages

Even if trade does not reduce the number of jobs, it could affect wages. Here, it is important to separate issues about the average level of wages from issues about whether the wages of certain workers may be helped or hurt by trade.

Because trade raises the amount that an economy can produce by letting firms and workers play to their comparative advantage, trade will also cause the average level of wages in an economy to rise. Workers who can produce more will be more desirable to employers, which will shift the demand for their labor out to the right, and increase wages in the labor market. By contrast, barriers to trade will reduce the average level of wages in an economy.

However, even if trade increases the overall wage level, it will still benefit some workers and hurt others. Workers in industries that are confronted by competition from imported products may find that demand for their labor decreases and shifts back to the left, so that their wages decline with a rise in international trade. Conversely, workers in industries that benefit from selling in global markets may find that demand for their labor shifts out to the right, so that trade raises their wages.

Link It Up

View this website to read an article on the issues surrounding fair trade coffee.

One concern is that while globalization may be benefiting high-skilled, high-wage workers in the United States, it may also impose costs on low-skilled, low-wage workers. After all, high-skilled U.S. workers presumably benefit from increased sales of sophisticated products like computers, machinery, and pharmaceuticals in which the United States has a comparative advantage. Meanwhile, low-skilled U.S. workers must now compete against extremely low-wage workers worldwide for making simpler products like toys and clothing. As a result, the wages of low-skilled U.S. workers are likely to fall. There are, however, a number of reasons to believe that while globalization has helped some U.S. industries and hurt others, it has not focused its negative impact on the wages of low-skilled Americans. First, about half of U.S. trade is intra-industry trade. That means the U.S. trades similar goods with other high-wage economies like Canada, Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom. For instance, in 2014 the U.S. exported over 2 million cars, from all the major automakers, and also imported several million cars from other countries.

Most U.S. workers in these industries have above-average skills and wages—and many of them do quite well in the world of globalization. Some evidence suggested that intra-industry trade between similar countries had a small impact on domestic workers but later evidence indicates that it all depends on how flexible the labor market is. In other words, the key is how flexible workers are in finding jobs in different industries. The effect of trade on low-wage workers depends considerably on the structure of labor markets and indirect effects felt in other parts of the economy. For example, in the United States and the United Kingdom, because labor market frictions are low, the impact of trade on low income workers is small.

Second, many low-skilled U.S. workers hold service jobs that imports from low-wage countries cannot replace. For example, we cannot import lawn care services or moving and hauling services or hotel maids from countries long distances away like China or Bangladesh. Competition from imported products is not the primary determinant of their wages.

Finally, while the focus of the discussion here is on wages, it is worth pointing out that low-wage U.S. workers suffer due to protectionism in all the industries—even those in which they do not work. For example, food and clothing are protected industries. These low-wage workers therefore pay higher prices for these basic necessities and as such their dollar stretches over fewer goods.

The benefits and costs of increased trade in terms of its effect on wages are not distributed evenly across the economy. However, the growth of international trade has helped to raise the productivity of U.S. workers as a whole—and thus helped to raise the average level of wages.

Labor Standards and Working Conditions

Workers in many low-income countries around the world labor under conditions that would be illegal for a worker in the United States. Workers in countries like China, Thailand, Brazil, South Africa, and Poland are often paid less than the United States minimum wage. For example, in the United States, the minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. A typical wage in many low-income countries might be more like $7.25 per day, or often much less. Moreover, working conditions in low-income countries may be extremely unpleasant, or even unsafe. In the worst cases, production may involve the child labor or even workers who are treated nearly like slaves. These concerns over foreign labor standards do not affect most of U.S. trade, which is intra-industry and carried out with other high-income countries that have labor standards similar to the United States, but it is, nonetheless, morally and economically important.

In thinking about labor standards in other countries, it is important to draw some distinctions between what is truly unacceptable and what is painful to think about. Most people, economists included, have little difficulty with the idea that production by six-year-olds confined in factories or by slave labor is morally unacceptable. They would support aggressive efforts to eliminate such practices—including shutting out imported products made with such labor. Many cases, however, are less clear-cut. An opinion article in the New York Times several years ago described the case of Ahmed Zia, a 14-year-old boy from Pakistan. He earned $2 per day working in a carpet factory. He dropped out of school in second grade. Should the United States and other countries refuse to purchase rugs made by Ahmed and his co-workers? If the carpet factories were to close, the likely alternative job for Ahmed is farm work, and as Ahmed says of his carpet-weaving job: “This makes much more money and is more comfortable.”

Other workers may have even less attractive alternative jobs, perhaps scavenging garbage or prostitution. The real problem for Ahmed and many others in low-income countries is not that globalization has made their lives worse, but rather that they have so few good life alternatives. The United States went through similar situations during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

In closing, there is some irony when the United States government or U.S. citizens take issue with labor standards in low-income countries, because the United States is not a world leader in government laws to protect employees. According to a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. is the only one of 41 countries that does not provide mandated paid leave for new parents, and among the 40 countries that do mandate paid leave, the minimum duration is about two months. Many European workers receive six weeks or more of paid vacation per year. In the United States, vacations are often one to three weeks per year. If European countries accused the United States of using unfair labor standards to make U.S. products cheaply, and announced that they would shut out all U.S. imports until the United States adopted paid parental leave, added more national holidays, and doubled vacation time, Americans would be outraged. Yet when U.S. protectionists start talking about restricting imports from poor countries because of low wage levels and poor working conditions, they are making a very similar argument. This is not to say that labor conditions in low-income countries are not an important issue. They are. However, linking labor conditions in low-income countries to trade deflects the emphasis from the real question to ask: “What are acceptable and enforceable minimum labor standards and protections to have the world over?”

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