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Washington Hasn’t Learned the Real Lesson of the China Shock

The U.S. spent too little on domestic programs to get American factory towns back on their feet.
Chinese Foreign Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng signs WTO accession documents in Doha in 2001.

Chinese Foreign Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng signs WTO accession documents in Doha in 2001.

Photo illustration: 731; Photo: Getty Images

If there’s one area of bipartisan consensus to be found in Washington these days, it’s China policy. Everyone, whether Democrat or Republican, is a China hawk, no matter how much they may differ about everything else, from mask mandates to the causes of inflation.

It’s a remarkable change from 20 years ago, when a healthy majority in Washington supported China’s Dec. 11, 2001, accession into the World Trade Organization. And one major and well-documented reason for the shift is the work of economists David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon Hanson. Since 2013 they’ve been detailing the dislocation in the U.S. economy caused by a surge in imports from China, which had led to a loss of as many as 2.4 million jobs by 2011.