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Squaring rhetoric and reality on outsourcing

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Kai Ryssdal: If you’ve been following the presidential race the past couple of weeks, and by following, I mean paying even the slightest bit of attention, you’ve heard the sniping: Each guy saying the other sent American work abroad. Certain political death if true, given the state of the economy, but there’s a lot more to it than that — beyond even the simple question, how many jobs are we actually talking about?

We asked Todd Zwillich to find the truth behind the rhetoric.

Todd Zwillich: Out on the campaign trail, President Obama accuses Mitt Romney of running companies that shipped about 800 jobs overseas. Mitt Romney says Barack Obama gave more than a billion dollars in loan guarantees to a company that builds solar panels in Mexico.

No independent fact checker has said either of these charges of outsourcing is true. But voters have to wonder who’s the worse outsourcer: Mitt Romney or Barack Obama?

Douglas Irwin: It’s a ridiculous question in the first place.

That’s Douglas Irwin, professor of economics at Dartmouth College. He says President Obama never ran a business and shipped jobs anywhere, and Mitt Romney, while he was running Bain Capital, only advised companies on how to increase profits. Well, neither candidate is an outsourcer — here’s another question: Which of the two parties backs policies that promote outsourcing?

The answer is both. Here’s Dean Baker, a liberal economist and co-director and co-director of the Center for Economics and Policy Research in Washington.

Dean Baker: They’re not free traders, but there’s certainly a consensus among the people who’ve been in the White House the last two decades that is at odds, that’s very much at odds with the views of the public as a whole.

Baker says trade deals like NAFTA negotiated over the last 20 years by presidents of both parties are the root of outsourcing. He says corporations want the freedom to cut costs and sell products overseas. And that Washington delivered decades ago.

So if the candidates have you mad about outsourcing, which one should you choose? Here’s Douglas Irwin.

Irwin: There is this consensus in Washington that allowing markets to work in this way really shouldn’t be impeded. And no one is really going to do anything about it.

Not unless voters decide that outsourcing is more than a dirty word and is actually bad policy.

For Marketplace, I’m Todd Zwillich in Washington.

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