Newspaper article International New York Times

Trade Deals Show Power Wielded by Rich in the U.S

Newspaper article International New York Times

Trade Deals Show Power Wielded by Rich in the U.S

Article excerpt

The long-term trend toward reducing restrictions on trade reflects the preferences of the wealthy more than the poor or middle class.

The Pacific Rim trade deal making its way through Congress is the latest step in a decades-long trend toward liberalizing trade -- a somewhat mysterious development given that many Americans are skeptical of freer trade.

But Americans with higher incomes are not so skeptical. They -- along with businesses and interest groups that tend to be affiliated with them -- are much more likely to support trade liberalization. Trade is thus one of the best examples of how policy in the United States is often much more responsive to the preferences of the wealthy than to those of the general public.

Skepticism toward free trade among lower-income Americans is often substantial. For instance, a 2013 CBS/New York Times poll found that 58 percent of Americans making less than $30,000 per year preferred to limit imports to protect United States industries and jobs, while only 36 percent preferred the wider selection and lower prices of imported goods available under free trade. But the balance of opinion reversed for those making over $100,000. Among that higher-income group, 53 percent favored free trade versus 44 percent who wanted to limit imports.

This economic divide on trade has existed for decades. On average, polls conducted from 1981 to 2002 found that support for free trade policies or agreements was 23 percentage points higher for Americans at the 90th percentile of the income distribution than for those at the 10th percentile, according to research conducted by Martin Gilens, a Princeton professor. In his book "Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America," Professor Gilens concludes that "U.S. policy on tariffs and trade during the past few decades has clearly been more consistent with the preferences of the affluent and has become more so over time as trade barriers have fallen and bipartisan support for an open trade regime has strengthened. …

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