NAFTA and other trade deals have not gutted American manufacturing — period
It goes like this: The jobs America wants to have — the good jobs, the manufacturing jobs — have gone. First came NAFTA, in 1993. Then there was China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, which granted China a normal country's freedom to export to other countries, and obligations to accept imports from other countries. Finally, there was the not-yet-implemented (and, as of this week, officially dead) Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Such agreements will leave, or have left, "millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache” (Trump), have "lost [us] … manufacturing jobs” (Trump), and created “catastrophe” (Trump). The agreements amount to "the death blow for American manufacturing” (Sanders), they “undermine our independence” (Trump), and they "forced American workers to compete against desperate and low-wage labor around the world” (Sanders), all while causing "massive job losses in the United States and the shutting down of tens of thousands of factories” (Sanders).
And what did we hear from the center establishment? We had popular vote–winning (but Electoral College–losing) Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton. She stated: “I will stop any trade deal that kills jobs or holds down wages, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as president. …”
Politicians are taking claims that have a very tenuous connection to economic reality — claims that feel true — and running with them, sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes because of cynical calculation.
Yes, America has been losing manufacturing job share at a furious rate. Yes, the spread between the incomes of the non-college-educated and the college-educated has widened massively. Yes, the spread between the incomes of even the college-educated and our overclass has exploded.
But this is not due to NAFTA. This is not due to bringing China into the WTO rather than keeping it out. This is not due to the not-yet-completed — and now never-to-be-completed — TPP.