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Scott Lincicome clarifies the ‘China Shock.’ Four slices:

Reading those summaries, you will inevitably think that 1) the China Shock was driven mainly by U.S. trade liberalization; 2) it devastated the U.S. economy, destroying more 2 million American manufacturing jobs and causing widespread social problems too; and 3) that these widespread harms are settled economic canon. Wanting the government to thwart another round of such devastation today—including via tariffs—would be an understandable response.

But there’s only one problem: Almost none of what I just said about the China Shock is actually correct.


More importantly, economists have repeatedly found that other factors—not PNTR or China’s WTO accession—were the main drivers of the China Shock. Economists Kyle Handley and Nuno Limão, for example, found that PNTR’s reduction in trade policy uncertainty accounted for only about one‐third of the growth in Chinese exports to the United States between 2000 and 2005. Mary Amiti and colleagues foundsimilar results, attributing approximately two‐thirds of the trade effects on U.S. manufacturing not to PNTR but to China’s own tariff reductions, which counterintuitively make exporters more competitive. (Preliminary results from a new group of economists suggest that—again contra the narrative—China reduced domestic tariffs by a greater amount than was expected for nations joining the WTO.) Even the China Shock papers by Autor, Dorn, and Hanson (I’ll refer to them as ADH going forward) emphasize that China’s internal reforms—on privatization, trading rights, and (again) import liberalization—were the major contributors to China’s export surge in the late 1990s and 2000s.

In short, PNTR probably accelerated Chinese exports to the United States by reducing tariff uncertainty, but it was China’s own market‐based reforms—policies beyond U.S. officials’ control and ones China critics should cheer—that were the China Shock’s biggest drivers.


First, the figure of 2.4 million lost jobs during 1999 and 2011 was the authors’ maximum (“upper bound”) estimate, with the more likely scenario (“central estimate”) being only about half that number. Just as importantly, only half of those job losses were in manufacturing—all the others were in local and supporting services. Those jobs matter too, of course, but common claims that the China Shock destroyed 2 million or more American manufacturing jobs are—by even the authors’ most extreme estimates—just plain wrong.

Second, the ADH papers focus strictly on job losses incurred by specific local labor markets because of the China Shock—they don’t account for everything else happening in the U.S. economy at the same time, including Chinese imports’ other effects. This methodological issue is really important, because a) the much-ballyhooed 2.4 million job losses (max) came amid an economy‐wide gain of approximately 2.2 million U.S. jobs (even as the labor market effects of the Great Recession persisted beyond 2011); and b) those 1 million lost manufacturing jobs (max) accounted for less than 20 percent of the total manufacturing job losses over the same timeframe—and a tiny fraction of the tens of millions of job separations that occur in the United States each year. Thus, even the China Shock papers themselves confirm that manufacturing job losses caused by Chinese imports were at best a significant contributor to—not the main driver of—total factory job declines during the 2000s.


Second, the original ADH China Shock papers didn’t examine the consumer effects of trade with China for the United States. Other economists have filled this gap, again with more optimistic results. Xavier Jaravel and Erick Sager, for example, found that for each percentage point increase in Chinese imports, consumer prices fell by nearly 2 percentage points, with savings from both imports and domestically produced goods (thanks to heightened competition). Notably, middle‐ and low‐income households enjoyed a disproportionate amount of these benefits, as the most affected products were those often sold at big‐box retailers, such as Target and Walmart. As the 2024 Economic Report of the President also just noted, other studies have found Chinese imports to have provided similar reductions in consumer prices—“almost 90 percent of the U.S. population saw an increase in purchasing power”—as well as significant benefits for American manufacturers that consume imported inputs.

David Henderson is correct: High IQ and grasp of factoids isn’t sufficient to make someone a sound thinker.

Amar Bhidé tells “the boring truth about AI.”

And here are thoughts from Arnold Kling on Bhidé’s piece.

Freddie Sayers talks with Harvard Law professor Randall Kennedy about DEI.

C. Jarrett Dieterle reports on Minneapolis’s assault on gig workers and consumers. A slice:

In response to the council’s override, ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft have announced they are planning to pull out of the Minneapolis market entirely unless the council reverses course. The ride-share companies originally were set to leave the city on May 1 when the ordinance went into effect, but after a last-minute agreement by the council to delay the ordinance’s effective date to July 1, the ride-share companies are in wait-and-see mode.

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