I read a great book a while back about the heroin-opioid epidemic in the United States. It’s called Dreamland: the true tale of America’s opiate epidemic by Sam Quinones. Quinones listed many factors underlying the epidemic, but the root of it all was unemployed, anxious and depressed Americans. This was especially so in the Rust Belt of the southern United States. Most of these people were unemployed due to American manufacturing jobs closing their doors and moving overseas. It’s pretty obvious the corporations did this to lower labor costs. While I didn’t understand the effect it had on the people living in these areas until I read the book, I did know why so many jobs moved overseas.
What I didn’t know was what made it possible for those companies to open shop in these other countries. According to the Freakonomics podcast “Did China Eat America’s Jobs” that occurred because of trade deals. Trade deals that the economists knew would cause manufacturing jobs to leave the U.S. and leave low-skilled workers unemployed. Now, the economists did believe that these workers would be able to transfer to other jobs in a relatively short period of time. However, they miscalculated badly: the number of manufacturing jobs that left was much higher than they predicted, the ability for the unemployed workers to find new jobs was much, much longer than they estimated and they didn’t even consider the emotional impact on these people’s lives. That gives us insight to how we ended up where we are today..
I’d like to leave you with some good news, but the only solutions the economist had to offer was government assistance in one form or another. But for all of that I found the podcast helped me to fill in some blanks and if you want to give it a listen, here’s the link. If you decide to also read Dreamland, then you might notice the ensuing epidemic was not just caused by the economic policy discussed in the podcast, but other government policies as well. I think we really need to reconsider our policy making process.
Favorite quote from the podcast:
“You know, it brought 400 million Chinese out of poverty, raised incomes in Central and South America, caused investment throughout Africa, right? This is sort of the best thing to happen to the global middle class in at least a millennium, right? But it was it was tough on U.S. manufacturing.” -David Autor, Economist
Photograph supplied by Samuel Zeller @Unsplash.