It’s only been eight years since one Hank Paulson was Treasury secretary, but it seems like another era – back when China was still more friend than enemy, and Goldman Sachs was not yet a vampire squid.
This morning, Paulson returns, publishing a paper that argues direct investment from China is likely to increase sharply in the coming decades, and that Americans should welcome it. Unlike U.S. – China trade – which can cost Americans jobs in certain industries – or investment in Treasury securities – which can be pulled out at a moment’s notice, direct investment can create jobs and increase U.S. competitiveness.
In an interview Friday with Geoff Colvin and myself, Paulson acknowledged that foreign direct investment is never popular. And investment from China is particularly problematic, given concerns “that China engages in rampant intellectual property theft, that our companies don’t get reciprocal access to markets in China, that there are charges about currency manipulation, and that State-Owned Enterprises compete on an unfair playing field with state subsidies.”
But, he says, “although there is truth to much of this, that’s no reason we should penalize ourselves, and not welcome capital investments that are going to help our economy.” He acknowledges concerns about lost jobs, but argues that “most of those jobs are being lost to advances in technology,” not trade. And he says that’s “all the more reason we need to attract foreign investment to create more high-quality jobs.”
Paulson also advises Chinese acquirers to start their efforts to win support in the U.S. at the local level, where people are more likely to appreciate the effects of the investment on jobs. You can read his full paper here.
Paulson hasn’t been reticent to express his concerns about the rising protectionism that is sweeping the U.S. and other countries. In June, the Republican wrote a piece in the Washington Post saying for this reason and others, he will not vote for Donald Trump but will support Hillary Clinton instead.