Incentives in the Presidential Election

Hope Corbin-Honorbound

The 2016 presidential election candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both campaigning to keep jobs in the United States by decreasing international trade. Trump’s plans include telling NAFTA partners that he intends to renegotiate the terms of the treaty in order to obtain better deals for US workers[1] while Clinton’s include investing in partnerships at every level of society to strengthen manufacturing across America and requiring businesses taking part to pledge not to switch to overseas partnerships.[2] Either way, an increase in free trade creates an overall better US economy, so what incentives might the political nominees be receiving for canvassing the extermination of international trade?

Although international trade is good for consumers—citizens end up paying less for many everyday items because they can be made more cheaply in other countries or in the US due to foreign competition—it does create a loss of jobs.[3] However, only “about 20 million people lose their jobs due to layoffs and plant closures every year, and fewer than 5% of those are due to imports,” so there really is no positive correlation between an increase in international trade and a decrease in the amount of American jobs.[4] Believing that placing a limitation on foreign goods will generate more jobs that will ultimately create a richer economy is misleading. “Economics tells us that companies shielded from competition do not grow stronger; they grow fat and lazy” and “open economics grows faster than closed economics.”[5] Researchers conducted a study comparing the economic performance of countries with trade restrictions and high tariffs to the performance of countries with an open economy. Conducted among poor countries in the 70s and 80s, the results yielded a .7 percent growth in per capita while there was a 4.5 percent growth in the open economy.[6]

With evidence confirming that international trade with fewer restrictions creates a stronger economy in the Unites States, the matter of why both candidates would oppose it once again comes into question. The incentive for Trump and Clinton to push for keeping jobs in the country is for more votes. Looking back on past political campaigns, Democratic candidate Bill Bradley began to support tax breaks for ethanol, which increases the demand for corn bringing more money to Iowa farmers, because “ethanol is crucial to Iowa voters, and Iowa is crucial to the presidential race.”[7] Many US citizens haven’t been taught that free trade has a larger, positive effect on the economy as opposed to if the government were to reduce international trade, so politicians like Trump and Clinton say what they believe voters want to hear to gain a better chance at winning the election.

As former Nebraska senator Bob Kerrey says “If I had a choice between getting a round of applause by delivering a 26 second applause line and getting a round of boos by telling you the truth, I’d rather get the round of applause.”[8] Politicians will say whatever they need to in order to gain the popular vote and in the case of the 2016 presidential election, campaigning to cut international trade in hopes of creating more US jobs is what Trump and Clinton must push for in order to increase their votes.

[1] “Trade | Donald J Trump for President.” Accessed October 20, 2016.

[2] “Manufacturing | Hillary for America.” Accessed October 20, 2016.

[3] Charles Wheelan. Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science [New York: Norton, 2010], 185.

[4] “The Truth about Trade, American Jobs and Donald Trump …” Accessed October 20, 2016.

[5] Wheelan, Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science, 305.

[6] Wheelan, Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science, 305.

[7] Wheelan, Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science, 179.

[8] Wheelan, Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science, 190.


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