Talking Points: Response to 3/15/16 Peterson Institute Pro-TPP Paper
Below is a briefing note called, “Assuming Away Unemployment and Trade Deficits from the TPP” from the team at Tufts University that debunked the original Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) TPP study which this latest missive, “Adjustment & Income Distribution Impacts of the TPP” by PIIE’s Robert Lawrence and Tyler Moran, is premised. The key points are:
- Of course Lawrence and Moran find that TPP’s benefits far exceed the adjustment costs: They use the findings of the PIEE TPP study (Petri-Plummer) derived from a model that does not allow for permanent job loss or increased trade deficits and assumes no increased income inequality. Those assumptions, which contradict the outcomes of each past major U.S. trade pact, mean TPP wage and employment losses are just temporary “adjustment costs” on the way back to full employment. If that were not sufficient to distort the new study’s findings, the authors also pile on more outlandish assumptions to minimize the number of workers likely to be affected and the impact on their wages.
- With larger trade deficits and permanent job loss excluded by assumption, Lawrence and Moran then start discounting how many Americans would be hit even by temporary job displacement from the TPP by presenting three scenarios.
- They start with 1.69 million U.S. workers possibly displaced over ten years of the TPP.
- They drastically reduce that total to 278,000 (mainly in manufacturing), by invoking another layer of assumption based on the underlying full-employment assumption: Rising demand will generate new jobs and thus limit job loss.
- Then they reduce that to 238,000 workers by excluding workers who voluntarily leave manufacturing jobs, so the TPP can’t be blamed for those losses.
- They then apply a formula to estimate the temporary adjustment costs (essentially lost wages) from those “displaced.” They compare these to Petri and Plummer’s reported U.S. TPP gains of $131 billion. Recall that these gains are based on the outlandish assumptions baked into the model. Another study that allowed for job loss and increased trade deficits found the TPP would result in net losses for the United States.
- Lawrence and Moran’s resulting cost-benefit calculation does not report the costs, just the ratios, for the three scenarios. The authors report that for their “most realistic” scenario (#3), the one with the fewest displaced jobs, the benefits are 18 times the costs over the 10-year “adjustment period” (2017-26).
- Then, they add in three “post-adjustment years” 2027-2030 and the ratio skyrockets to 115:1. Why? Presumably because with the full-employment assumption all displaced workers are, by then, happily employed in their new post-TPP jobs.
- Finally, the authors also make the unfounded assumption that U.S. wages will increase at the same rate as productivity, though that has not happened for thirty years. This assumption automatically raises most workers’ incomes in their analysis. They also claim the assumed income gains will be much the same for each quintile of U.S. income distribution, with the bottom quintile seeing an increase 0.007 of a percentage point higher than the top. Technically, that’s mildly progressive. But consider it in terms of absolute gains: The bottom 40 percent sees just $8 billion in income gains, while the top quintile would get $48 billion. (i.e., more in absolute terms than the bottom 80 percent combined.)
The resulting cost-benefit calculations are misleading not only because the costs are assumed away, but also because the benefits are overstated. This latest paper takes the earlier Petri and Plummer estimates at face value, with all their flawed growth-boosting assumptions (such as a surge in foreign investment and most growth gains from non-trade measures). Plus, the gains are simply asserted to be large, when even the Petri-Plummer estimates of gains are incredibly small, just 0.5 percent of GDP for the United States in 2030, i.e., a paltry 0.029 percent per year on average over 15 years. How small is that? Even with all of the unrealistic assumptions, for the bottom 40 percent of U.S. income distribution, the gains amount to just $62 per person, in 15 years.
THE FULL BRIEFING NOTE FROM THE TUFTS TEAM CAN BE FOUND HERE: http://triplecrisis.com/assuming-away-unemployment-and-trade-deficits-from-the-tpp/