Must-Read: Paul Krugman: Trade and Jobs: A Note

Must-Read: Ah. I’ve been waiting for Paul Krugman to write up something like this…

I think that he is, of course, correct. The estimated effects of the China shock on individual regions and labor markets is solid. Their aggregating up is fatally flawed pre-2008…

Paul Krugman: Trade and Jobs: A Note: “Trade and jobs… The big story in the academia/policy space…

…Autor et al… estimated large losses from Chinese import penetration…. But… some conceptual issues… are important for interpreting the results…. I would begin by posing a counterfactual: what would U.S. employment look like if we had pursued policies such as Trump tariffs that prevented the large trade deficits in manufacturing we actually have?… A balanced expansion of imports and imports would have, to a first approximation, no effect on manufacturing value added, and an effect on employment only to the extent that import-competing industry is more labor-intensive than exports…. [So] what matters is the manufacturing trade deficit… $600 billion in 2014. How much manufacturing did that deficit displace?… About $360 billion…. 2 million jobs.

OK, what about the effect on overall employment?… If monetary and fiscal policy are used to achieve a target level of employment–as they generally were prior to the 2008 crisis–then a first cut at the impact on overall employment is zero. That is, trade deficits meant 2 million fewer manufacturing jobs and 2 million more in the service sector. Since 2008, of course, we’ve been in a liquidity trap, with the Fed either unable or unwilling to hit its targets and fiscal policy paralyzed by ideology, so trade deficits are in practice a major drag on overall employment…. So, how big a deal is displacement of 2 million manufacturing jobs? Not trivial…. But… absent the trade deficit… we would have roughly 11.5 percent of the work force in manufacturing, rather than the actual 10. Compare this with the realities of the past: more than 20 percent in manufacturing in the late 1970s, more than 25 percent in the 1960s….

Autor and various co-authors… do… a bottom-up approach…. The impact of the China shock on employment, wages, and so on at the regional level… beautiful work. But what they do next is to apply the implied coefficient from this analysis to the aggregate effects of the China shock. And that’s much more dubious–especially when, in the second paper, they purport to estimate the effects on overall employment. In general, you can’t do that: applying estimates of partial regional effects to the overall aggregate exposes you to huge possible fallacies of composition. And in this case the crucial issue is monetary and fiscal response. Up through 2007… [their results] should be seen as jobs shifted out of manufacturing to other sectors, not total job loss…

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Brad DeLong
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