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Trump's Position On Trade Often Aligns With Left-Wing Economists

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now the story of an unlikely marriage. It involves Donald Trump. In Pennsylvania this week, Trump gave a speech hammering at one of his core messages - his opposition to global trade deals, starting with the giant North American Free Trade Agreement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: NAFTA was the worst trade deal in the history - it's, like, the history of this country.

GREENE: Now this view pits Trump against mainstream Republicans and also many Democrats. The people Trump is most aligned with here are left-wing economists. Trump often cites research by a well-known liberal think tank. Here he is, talking about a different trade deal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: As reported by the Economic Policy Institute in May, this deal doubled our trade deficit with South Korea and destroyed nearly 100,000 American jobs.

GREENE: Now the Economic Policy Institute's senior economist for many years was Dean Baker. Baker is now co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. His views on trade have not changed all that much. He says trade has been a net negative for many American workers. And Dean Baker's in the studio with us right now. Welcome to the program.

DEAN BAKER: Thanks a lot for having me on.

GREENE: So how does it feel to have Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, using your former organization by name and talking about your views on trade?

BAKER: Well, it's good to have these views getting aired. I'd rather have a different spokesperson. But, you know, I would hope we could have a serious discussion of these issues and sort of take Donald Trump out of the story. And, you know, I'd love to see Secretary Clinton pick up on many of these issues.

GREENE: On a very basic level, let's talk about what Donald Trump has said about trade deals - that they're bad for - bad for the country and cause a loss of manufacturing jobs. I mean, what's sort of the the thumbnail for that argument?

BAKER: Well, the basic story has been that certainly a trade deal like NAFTA was very deliberately designed to make it easy for a U.S. corporation to set up operations in Mexico, know that they don't have to worry about Mexico nationalizing their factory, they don't have to worry about Mexico putting limits on their ability to repatriate their profits. And the result of that was you saw more investment from companies like General Electric, General Motors in Mexico. So that was very directly putting U.S. workers in direct competition with low-paid workers in the developing world.

GREENE: Now, I spent some time doing reporting in Peoria, Ill., this year and spoke to some officials at Caterpillar. They made the argument to me that the more jobs they have overseas, the more work they are doing sort of in a globalized world, is net benefit for workers in this country.

BAKER: I don't agree with that. You know, in effect what they'd be saying - if you take that argument literally - that for every job they relocate, they now have a net increase of employment of more than one. So if they - in other words, they ship out a thousand jobs to Mexico, what they are saying...

GREENE: They will at least have a thousand jobs in the United States.

BAKER: More than a thousand new jobs.

GREENE: More than a thousand, right.

BAKER: And that's a little hard to imagine.

GREENE: Donald Trump says that he, if he were president, would make sure that there were better trade negotiators. Have U.S. trade negotiators been doing this badly in your mind?

BAKER: It's not a question that these are bad negotiators, they're stupid people - I think he's used that term. I'm sure they're all very bright people. But they have a different agenda. They're actually trying to make it easy for our companies to relocate their factories in Mexico or China or wherever it might be. And part of the story here is he's not going to have to beat up China 'cause, you know, if he says, hey, I want to make it more difficult for U.S. companies to relocate in China and then re-export their goods back to the U.S., well, you know, China's not going to be happy with that. But most immediately, General Electric's not going to be happy with that. So those are the people he's going to have to beat up.

GREENE: I wonder - I mean, I think about the vote in the United Kingdom to leave Europe. And that's sort of been seen as nationalistic, more right-leaning concerns about immigration, concerns about borders and fighting for the working class. But what does that tell us about the world or politics today?

BAKER: You know, this is kind of a frightening story. We've had policies in place - speaking first and foremost of the U.S., but I think you could also look to the U.K., you can look to Europe - that have tended to redistribute income upwards. And you're seeing a backlash from the victims. And that backlash very often takes, you know, racist, xenophobic forms and that's really awful. But to my view, you know, I'm not going to condone the racism. And I'm not going to condone xenophobia.

But if we want to deal with this issue over a longer term, we have to change the economic policies that have made these people lash out that way. And what that means is economic policies that lead to broadly-shared prosperity. And we had this. It's not like, oh, we can't possibly do this. We had this in the '50s. We had this in the '60s, into the '70s. We know how to do it. It's a question that the people in positions of power in the United States are gaining, obviously, from these policies. And they don't see a reason to change course.

GREENE: Dean Baker, thanks a lot for coming in.

BAKER: Thanks for having me on.

GREENE: Economist Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Policy and Economic Research. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.