Neither Republicans nor Democrats are immune to bouts of protectionism. But what's interesting this election cycle
is that both sides are experiencing a particularly bad case of it at the same time given the twin rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. However, neither of these populist demagogues has arisen in an intellectual vacuum. Smart-set folks in their camp — some reformocons on the right and Paul Krugman on the left — have for a while now been beating the protectionist drum and blaming China for the travails of the American middleclass.
But, I note in my column at The Week, it's far from clear that the American working class is doing as poorly as these brainiacs suggest; or that trade liberalization for China or any other country has hurt rather than helped these folks; or that protectionism would be an effective cure.
There is evidence suggesting that there are plenty of unfilled jobs, but working class Americans are just not as into them as they used to be. There are many reasons why, but:
Chief among them is Congress' relaxation of the rules for claiming Social Security disability during the Reagan years so that a worker's own subjective self assessment — rubber stamped by his own self-selected physician — would be enough to file a successful claim. What's more, it also made the payment more generous.
The upshot was that when the Great Recession hit in 2008, many able-bodied adults went on Social Security disability after their unemployment benefits ran out and never got off. Scott Lincicome of Cato Institute notes that between 1990 and 2014, the percentage of working-age adults receiving disability more than doubled.
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