Steve Chapman

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  • Even This Conservative Columnist Thinks Trump's Plan On Trade Is “A Scam”

    Steve Chapman: “It's A Scam, Skillfully Pitched To Fool The Gullible”

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Conservative Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman joined a chorus of media and policy experts from across the political spectrum in criticizing Donald Trump’s promise to bring back American manufacturing jobs by curbing free trade.

    Chapman slammed Trump on June 29 in the Chicago Tribune for the policies Trump outlined in a speech on trade one day earlier. Trump advocated against globalization and the lowering of trade barriers brought about by free trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and World Trade Organization (WTO). Trump referred to his trade policy ideas as a path toward “Declaring America’s Economic Independence,” which he claimed would lead to increased economic activity that would “Make America Wealthy Again.”

    Chapman chided Trump’s simplistic look at global commerce, saying, “It's a scam, skillfully pitched to fool the gullible,” and echoed criticism of Trump from economist and Economic Policy Institute (EPI) president Lawrence Mishel. While Mishel criticized Trump for whitewashing the Republican Party’s free trade legacy and ignoring progressive initiatives that would benefit American workers, Chapman pointed out that manufacturing output in the United States is actually “54 percent higher today” than it was when NAFTA went into effect in 1994 and “27 percent higher” than it was before China joined the WTO in 2001. Progressive organizations like EPI have highlighted the negative consequences that free trade arrangements have had on the American labor market -- specifically with regard to NAFTA and China -- but as Chapman notes, part of the decline in manufacturing employment is the result of greater efficiencies in production stemming from automation and technological advances; “companies have learned to produce more goods with fewer people.” From the Chicago Tribune (emphasis added):

    The vision Trump conjures is one of alluring simplicity. He promises to achieve "economic independence" by abandoning globalization, instead using American workers to produce American goods. This change, he said, would "create massive numbers of jobs" and "make America wealthy again."

    It's a scam, skillfully pitched to fool the gullible. His framework is a house of cards built on sand in a wind tunnel. Its most noticeable feature is a total divorce from basic economic realities.


    In the first place, the expansion of manufacturing jobs is not synonymous with prosperity. As countries grow richer, manufacturing's share of employment declines. South Korea, singled out by Trump for killing American jobs, has seen it shrink by nearly half since 1991. Japan and Germany have followed a similar path.

    But U.S. manufacturing output is 54 percent higher today than in 1994 and 27 percent higher than in 2001. Those years are pertinent because 1994 was the year NAFTA took effect and 2001 is the year China gained entry to the World Trade Organization — events Trump portrays as catastrophic for American industry.

    Manufacturing jobs have vanished not because we don't manufacture anything but because companies have learned to produce more goods with fewer people. Higher productivity is what eliminated most of the jobs Trump mourns. He's no more capable of restoring them than he is of bringing back the dodo.


    Blaming Mexico and China for the fate of our steel industry is like blaming email for the decline of telegrams. The biggest reduction in steel jobs came before the globalization of the past two decades. The number fell from 450,000 to 210,000 in the 1980s.

    The total today is about 150,000. Even if Trump could manage the impossible feat of doubling the number of steelmaking jobs, it would be a blip in the overall economy — which adds more jobs than that every month.

  • Chicago Tribune's Steve Chapman Defends Bribery And Corporate Corruption

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    "Economic growth is a good thing, even when it's lubricated by graft."

    So argued Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman, dismissing concerns about corporate bribery raised amid reports that Wal-Mart officials have covered up evidence tying the company to bribery in Mexico. Chapman's Sunday column defended Wal-Mart, whose largest subsidiary (Wal-Mart de Mexico), is under investigation by the Justice Department (DOJ). The New York Times reported:

    In September 2005, a senior Wal-Mart lawyer received an alarming e-mail from a former executive at the company's largest foreign subsidiary, Wal-Mart de Mexico. In the e-mail and follow-up conversations, the former executive described how Wal-Mart de Mexico had orchestrated a campaign of bribery to win market dominance. In its rush to build stores, he said, the company had paid bribes to obtain permits in virtually every corner of the country.

    The allegations of illicit payments put Wal-Mart under the jurisdiction of DOJ, which is investigating potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, a law that has been described as an "anti-bribery, anti-corruption measure prohibit American companies from paying off foreign officials and to create an international example for ethical business practices."

    The law has been in effect for 35 years, but Chapman questioned the wisdom of using U.S. law to govern corporate behavior overseas:

    The question is why it's the duty of the U.S. government to dictate business practices in nations with very different business climates. You would think the Justice Department has plenty to do enforcing American laws on American soil without trying to sanitize the rest of the world.

    Our idea of appropriate business practices ought to prevail in America, but less developed countries are entitled to do things their own way. If Mexico doesn't police bribery and can't change its economic culture, why should Uncle Sam take on the job? [...]

    By deterring American companies from investing in such places, we deprive their citizens of goods and jobs that would improve their lives.

    When extortionate officials block Wal-Mart from opening stores in Mexico, ordinary Mexicans suffer. Economic growth is a good thing, even when it's lubricated by graft.