Economist Gene Sperling Says Hillary Clinton Will Be America’s Manufacturing Champion

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Jul 26 2016 |
Gene Sperling gives remarks during “Trade, Manufacturing & Jobs: How to Rebuild the Middle Class,” a town hall discussion held during the first day of the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. | Photo by Tricom Associates

The top Clinton campaign adviser also calls out Donald Trump.

Hillary Clinton will prioritize trade enforcement, invest in American infrastructure and work to create more manufacturing jobs, said Gene Sperling, a key economic adviser to the 2016 presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, during Monday's town hall discussion on manufacturing at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

The former director of the National Economic Council highlighted some of the big ideas in Clinton's manufacturing plan, emphasizing that she will get tough on China, including by addressing the steel imports crisis and ensuring that China maintains its non-market economy status. But Sperling also took on Donald Trump in his remarks, arguing that the Republican presidential nominee "is not working for American workers. There is no evidence, there is no proof."

"Even if you chose to believe him, why would anybody possibly think that he is trying to get a better deal for workers? His entire business practice has been about taking advantage and promoting the race to the bottom," Sperling said. "He has not cared whether he creates things in the United States. You can't find things that he creates in the United States."

Sperling pointed to evidence that Trump has a history of stiffing small contractors who do business for him, and who then go out of business because they still do the right thing and pay their workers. The economist also pointed to Trump businesses such as Trump University as further proof that the GOP candidate will not look out for the American people.

"I know his cynical view of winning, his cynical view of winning is that he wants to hoodwink workers into thinking that he has ever cared about [them], that he is going to look out for them on trade deals," Sperling said. "I want you to ask anybody who believes that: 'What evidence do you have that he has ever given a damn about American workers?'"

Compare that to Hillary Clinton, who has fought for workers for years, Sperling said. "Hillary Clinton, long before Trump started doing any ads, had a full manufacturing initiative," he said.

And Sperling explained some of the things in that initiative on Monday, which he called "as comprehensive and significant that any president has proposed." In particular, Clinton will prioritize trade enforcement, noting that if the U.S. government does not enforce trade laws and stand up to trade cheaters like China, these trade cheaters will know that they can continue to get away with doing things like dumping their subsidized goods into our market.

"If my daughter, if we say, 'no cookies,' and she sits there right while we're staring at her and she grabs two, she's going back for three the next time," Sperling explained.

Addressing the ongoing steel imports crisis is an example of where Clinton will get tough on China, Sperling said. China is creating massive amounts of steel (that is heavily subsidized by the government), far more than it can use. It needs to get rid of all that excess steel, so it is dumping it into the U.S. market at rock bottom prices, which is unfair to American workers and companies who operate in a free market and play by the rules.

The amount of steel that China is churning out is astonishing, Sperling noted.

"The capacity went up by 10 to 12 times between 2000 and 2014. When you see something like that, you think typo. They meant to say it went up 100 percent. No, it went up 1,000 percent," Sperling said, adding that the Chinese have pledged to cut "a fairly mediocre" amount of steel. "And do you know in June, they hit their highest capacity level ever?"

Clinton will make clear to China that it cannot support its own steel industry at the expense of American workers, Sperling said.

"It doesn't get easier or lighter on China Jan. 20th," he added. "I think there's just no question, you need trade enforcement, but the issues with China, particularly with state-owned enterprise, particularly with excess capacity, are the greatest threat right now." 

Another key part of Clinton's manufacturing plan is infrastructure investment, which would create millions of manufacturing jobs and make the United States more globally competitive, Sperling said. There are workers ready to go to work and interest rates are low, Sperling said, adding that he "can't even make the case" why someone would be against it.  

"If I tell you that our pipe is leaking in the basement, you don't say, 'Oh, you're really fiscally disciplined, you're really smart. You say, 'Oh, you're an idiot,'" Sperling says.

Sperling also called out economists who "have a very outdated" view of American manufacturing, noting that those same economists often tout research and development as a vital part of the economy.

"Research and development has positive benefits that spill over. They benefit the whole economy beyond just the particular plant," Sperling said. "Every bit of evidence suggests that manufacturing has that same extra benefit. Manufacturing, by any standard, punches above its weight." 

Sperling explained the importance of the "industrial commons," noting that from a public policy perspective, manufacturing is bigger than any single factory. It's important that there is an entire web of people working in the sector to build knowledge and create a strong supply chain. 

Compare what happened with America's customer electrics industry to the auto industry, for example.

"When consumer electronics left, people said, 'Who cares? It's just going to be where the cheapest stuff can get made. Nobody can predict this," Sperling said, holding up his iPhone. "Nobody could predict that. But by the time everybody realized it, we had let that web, that supply chain, get hurt so much that we were not as attractive. It wasn't just cost of labor, we underinvested. We did not protect our manufacturing base."

But the 2008 auto rescue (which Sperling worked on as an adviser to President Obama) shows what can happen when we take steps to prioritize manufacturing. Sperling noted that the CEO of Ford, which did not take any rescue money, testified on behalf of Chrysler and General Motors, even though Ford would have been the only big American auto company left standing if the others had gone under.

"He said, 'We believe that if GM and Chrysler would have gone into a freefall bankruptcy, they would have taken the supply base down and taken the industry down, plus maybe turn the U.S. recession into a depression,'" Sperling recalled. "He wasn't looking about getting their market share. He was worried that the supply base would erode and could never be recaptured. And now look, now look what we have. We've had significant auto and auto-related manufacturing growth since then."

Sperling wasn't the only speaker at Monday's town hall event. United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard also spoke, praising Sperling for his work on the auto rescue. Additional speakers included Tom Conway, international vice president of the United Steelworkers; Mike Langford, president of the Utility Workers Union of America; and pollster Michael Bloomfield. You can watch the entire town hall here.