From where I sit—in an education industry that is itself trying to evolve but struggling to do so—the election provides a lesson on how we all must think about preparing workers for the jobs of tomorrow.
In 1993, the European Union was established by Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterrand, and NAFTA was signed by Bill Clinton. The European single market had been developing since the 1950s; now North America created one.
Economists tell us that open economic borders between countries make nations richer, as industries flow to the country that is best at them, creating efficiency and lowering prices. Jobs lost to a country when an industry leaves will be replaced by other, new jobs. Presumably, since each economy is now wealthier and more efficient, the new jobs will be better than the jobs that were lost.
Even in theory, though, the creation of these requisite new jobs won't be instantaneous. So the governments involved should take some of the systemic wealth that was created and apply it to educational programs to re-skill workers whose industry disappeared.
So the economists tell us.
As the joke goes, put seven economists in a room and you'll get eight different opinions. Yet the economics world was largely united on the merits of free trade. Political support in the U.S. was bipartisan as well: 132 Republicans and 102 Democrats supported NAFTA in Congress. Government would establish the necessary legal frameworks and do something or other involving jobs retraining programs, and the business community would prosper.
But as the old saying goes, "no battle plan survives contact with the enemy." And this economic theory, for one, did not quite survive contact with reality.
Free trade did indeed make nations richer overall. But that new wealth was largely concentrated in the hands of those who were already wealthy: big business, the rich, the coastal elites. The very top of the U.S. economic pyramid was enriched. But the base did worse. And that base includes many more people, who didn't care that Gross Domestic Product had grown faster than it otherwise would have. They waited for the government to fix it; they struggled for years, even decades.