Inequality Within Countries Pits Worker Against Worker

Five Takeaways:

The working class bears the hurt: Working class incomes have stagnated in the U.S. and other countries, pitting worker against worker – as elites have seen their incomes and wealth increase. The big winner of the U.S.-China trade war has been Wall Street, Feingold says.

Rising inequality within countries heightens trade conflicts between them: Klein and co-author Michael Pettis found that trade wars break out as elites exploit workers to promote exports and build wealth. Income inequality rises in both exporting and importing nations. Soon enough, workers can no longer afford to buy the goods they produce – they’re shipped to elites elsewhere. Calls for trade protections follow.

Inequality and indebtedness have accelerated: Klein says that globalists tend to think that everything was fine before Trump’s trade wars began, while “national chauvinists” tend to think that foreigners are to blame for everything. The reality is in between. But trade policy is not a substitute for domestic policies aimed at helping workers, especially those without a college degree.

Americans have generally tolerated the system, although that is changing: A growing bipartisan view is skeptical about globalization, with both the Trump administration and some leading Democrats pushing for tariffs on many imported goods (although there are big disagreements on how to implement them).

Forced labor makes the U.S. non-competitive: Feingold says a persistent lack of worker rights – no benefits, long hours, low wages – in China, as well as the systematic use of forced labor in the Uyghur region there, makes it impossible for the U.S. to compete. But workers are beginning to stand up to Chinese authorities, and the international community is beginning to exert pressure on the Uyghur labor camps.

China’s workers stand up: Courtesy of Cathy Feingold – Source: An interactive map of China’s wildcat strikes

This program is funded by the Hinrich Foundation. NPF is solely responsible for the content.


Matthew C. Klein
Senior Writer, Barron's
Cathy Feingold
Director, International Department, AFL-CIO
Resources For Reporting On Global Trade and Workers
Matthew Klein, author of "Trade Wars Are Class Wars: How Rising Inequality Distorts the Global Economy and Threatens International Peace"
Cathy Feingold, AFL-CIO, speaks on how the trade wars affect workers around the world.
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