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Cost of US 'free' trade: collapse of two centuries of broadly shared prosperity

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Despite the 216,000 jobs added last month, the American economy has, in fact, entirely lost the ability to create jobs in tradable sectors. This cheery fact comes straight from the Commerce Department. All our net new jobs are in nontradable services: a few heart surgeons and a legion of busboys and security guards, most of them without health insurance or retirement benefits.

These are dead-end jobs, and our economy as a whole is being similarly squeezed into dead-end industries. The green jobs of the future? Gone to places like China, where governments bid sweeter subsidies than Massachusetts can afford. Nanotechnology? Perhaps the first major technology in a century where America is not the leading innovator. Foreign subsidies are illegal under WTO rules, but no matter: Who’s going to enforce them when corporate America is happily lapping at their very trough?

Part of the problem is that today’s free-trade order is in reality a curious mixture of genuinely free trade practiced by the United States and a few others with the technocratic mercantilism of surging East Asia and Germanic-Scandinavian Europe.

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