Labor Day debate: Does globalization undermine the working class?

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Robotic arms assemble and weld the body shell of a Nissan car on the production line at Nissan's Sunderland plant on January 24, 2013 in Sunderland, England.
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On Labor Day, Intelligence Squared debaters argue for and against the idea that globalization is to blame for the struggles of America's working class.

Globalization brought with it more free trade and great corporate profits. But in the United States, the middle class is struggling as jobs in some industries disappear. Is globalization the problem?

An Intelligence Squared debate was held at the 2018 Aspen Ideas Festival.

The motion is: Globalization has undermined America's working class.

For the motion:

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Thea Lee, CEO, president of the Economic Policy Institute.

"American workers can't outsource themselves. They need to make a living with a good American job on American soil whereas their boss can pit them against workers in China or Bangladesh or Mexico and threaten to move the job overseas if they ask too hard for a raise or health care or a pension or a bathroom break or safety goggles or a union."

Against the motion:

Jason Furman, former chairman, Council of Economic Advisers and senior fellow, Peterson Institute.

"Globalization gave us better jobs that outnumbered the jobs that were lost, according to the most careful research. They gave us lower prices. They put power in the hands of the large majority who benefit, rather than the small connected set of lobbyists who use their power to get tariffs for their favorite industries."

For the motion:

Jared Bernstein, senior fellow, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and former chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden.

"Careful analysis finds that the sharp increase in the imbalanced trade with China in the 2000s explains about 40 percent of the job losses in factory jobs in those years. That's about a million jobs in manufacturing highly geographically concentrated, by the way, which is important given the way electoral politics is played out in this space."

Against the motion:

James Manyika, chairman and director, McKinsey Global Institute.

"If we care about the American working class, let's focus on the big problems and the big questions. The structure of how our corporations work. The structure of how we treat our workers. The way in which technology is going to have an impact."