clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Hillary Clinton’s argument about Donald Trump and outsourcing doesn’t make sense

There is a lot of Trump-branded apparel sold in the United States.

But like most other apparel sold in the United States, it is largely not manufactured here. The reason it’s not manufactured in the United States is that mass-market apparel manufacturing is a low-skill, labor-intensive line of work, and it’s generally more profitable to do it abroad.

None of that is particularly controversial. But one thing Donald Trump is promising to do on the campaign trail is reverse a multi-decade consensus in favor of greater openness to foreign imports. With new barriers to imports in place, Trump says, manufacturing jobs will return to the United States and living standards will rise.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign has responded to this idea largely by arguing that it’s hypocritical of Trump to promise protectionist policies in the future while running business interests that take advantage of the present-day lack of protectionism.

The campaign even made a video in which Clinton staffers Jess McIntosh and Zac Petkanas go down to Trump Tower to buy a bunch of Trump stuff and find that it’s made in places like Lesotho and Peru.

It’s a cute video, but the argument doesn’t make any sense. Consider:

  • Hillary Clinton wants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but her campaign draws on the same dirty electrical grid and drives the same gasoline-powered cars as everyone else.
  • Hillary Clinton says rich people should pay a higher tax rate, but she’s rich and she pays today’s tax rates, which are lower.
  • Hillary Clinton says we should encourage the growth of labor unions and collective bargaining, but her campaign staff is not unionized.

These things happen because what people do in political campaigns is talk about their ideas for changing public policy. If Hillary Clinton gets her way, in the future everyone will be drawing electricity from lower-carbon sources and driving cleaner vehicles. She’s not running an ethical consumerism nonprofit, after all; she’s running for president.

Trump is doing the exact same thing — advancing an argument about public policy.

Right now it’s profitable to import clothing. With different policies, it might not be.

With the more protectionist policies Trump is proposing, clothing would become more expensive and low-income countries would be even poorer, but it’s likely fewer Americans would have food service jobs and more Americans would have jobs in hat factories. Whether or not that change is a good idea, all things considered, seems worth debating to me.

But the mere fact that Trump-branded apparel is made abroad is no more relevant than the fact that the clothing Clinton and her team wear is made abroad — the current policy regime strongly encourages apparel imports.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.