Mr. Salazar — Your readers may want to know that your assertions about NAFTA have counterpoint…
Perry Luckett

The Fundamental Problem With NAFTA (et al.)

I appreciate your thoughtful response. I have read other similar assertions about NAFTA, though to be honest, yours is a very clear and more readable consolidation of those views. I’m not going to argue against your figures because it would end up being a battle of “my URL links are better than your URL links” which isn’t going to convince anyone of anything.

Instead, I’ll take the position that your basic tenet is true: if NAFTA had not occurred, we would have lost lots of jobs to China instead (and the corollary, that Globalization is a Real Thing that’s not going away, so isolationism isn’t really an answer.)

Even so, here’s the problem. First, you only addressed one side of the coin- the American side. And perhaps that’s the only side you’re interested in, and that’s your prerogative. Hey, maybe it’s the only side Bernie is interested in, too- it’s hard to tell in politics. As a presidential race heats up, everyone whittles down their once-nuanced message to a series of rhetorical talking points, and it’s hard to get a sense of their full opinion on a matter. Bernie is as guilty as anyone on that account, and in the case of NAFTA, he does often just focus on “American jobs lost” and nothing else.

But the thing is, China or no China, NAFTA hurt Mexico a lot- and I would argue much more- than it hurt the U.S. And that’s important, because just like the 1% are actually shooting themselves in the foot (in the long run) by hogging so much capital that it prevents everyone else from buying their stuff, so are we shooting ourselves in the foot by screwing over other countries for our short-term gain. Which is nothing new, of course, since England takes the prize for Exploiting Countries and Destroying Cultures all over the globe- but just because it has a precedent doesn’t make it okay.

Yes, weakening Mexico’s economy through NAFTA hurt Mexicans, literally by robbing them of an already-barely-passable existence and pushing them right into dire poverty, among other things- but it also hurts Americans, because the Mexicans at the bottom of the heap are going to have to figure out a way to survive, as is true of every living creature on this planet, and if that means sneaking into the U.S. illegally in larger numbers, so be it. They sneak in, Americans freak out, Donald Trump boosts up the xenophobia, Barack Obama sends millions of dollars to Mexico to drive refugees away from ever crossing into our land… I mean, the feedback loop never ends. You’re going to have to add all those costs to your NAFTA figures before you can honestly claim that NAFTA wasn’t as bad as liberals claim, and good luck figuring that math out. Illegal immigrants still use public resources, and that translates into extra costs, as every Republican will tell you. The amount of money spent on border patrols, detention centers… I’m not saying immigrants are bad- far from it, I support them completely- but if we’re to take a purely selfish point of view, you have to weigh the real costs of NAFTA, not just the ones pertaining to job creation.

And that’s not even the only cost; just think of the drug war. We destroy one economy, so they focus on another. When your choices are either starve or make a crapload of money doing something that the people who robbed you of a living in the first place tell you is wrong, it’s not really a choice. So tack on the cost of our war on drugs to your NAFTA balance sheet before making that claim, or at least the percentage of the drug war that can be blamed on NAFTA- which, again, good luck figuring that one out, since, as you know, there’s are way too many factors that affect our economic situation. I have no idea how we’d ever come up with accurate data.

So while anyone can take issue with my figures, my real argument is a lot more philosophical than mere numbers. All these “Free Trade” agreements are, quite simply, wrong on a fundamental level because they come from a philosophy that places the short-term benefits of a select few over the long-term benefits of a greater majority. Which sounds like a very socialist thing for me to claim, and, well, on a philosophical level, I agree with the spirit behind socialism, even while disagreeing with its implementation over the last couple of centuries. As my boy Spock said, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” And that’s where your China argument breaks down- because even if you’re totally right about the number of jobs lost to them, who cares? Saying NAFTA wasn’t a bad thing because if it didn’t exist, the same bad thing would have happened elsewhere still doesn’t excuse that bad thing. And I completely agree with you on the consumerism issue- if Americans are demanding cheap junk from their 99 cent stores, you can’t blame China for giving it to them any more than you can blame Mexican or Afghani farmers from growing the plants that eventually get sold to us as drugs. Supply and demand, baby. American consumers have destroyed this planet in more ways than one.

So yes, the issue is multi-faceted and points to a lot of guilty parties, but we have to start calling the guilty parties out if we’re ever going to get out of this mess. The thing I can’t accept from your argument, and the arguments of lots of Hillary supporters, is the basic acceptance of how things are. The system is rigged, but “that’s the way it is.” Washington is full of corruption, the planet is an environmental mess, our wealth has been redistributed in an incredibly unbalanced way, but that’s the way it is. It would be naive to think it can be fixed anytime soon, so lets go with someone who acknowledges that and aims low in her goals.

Well, that’s the exact philosophy that got us here in the first place. We should have said “no” to NAFTA, and we definitely should be saying “no” to the TPP, and, like you pointed out, we as individuals should be saying “no” to buying cheap garbage being made in China and sold at Wal-Mart (two good reasons right there to not indulge) and we should be saying “no” to Apple who should be saying “no” to using Foxconn as their iPhone manufacturer because their entire manufacturing model is wrong- not just wrong in the simplistic way parents paint the world to their children, but wrong because the long-term consequences are actually worse than the short-term gains. Their workers are used up like cannon fodder, working long hours in dangerous conditions for next-to-nothing pay, just so you can have an iPhone. It’s easy to ignore when it’s happening thousands of miles away, but can you or anyone else really argue this is an acceptable transaction?

At this point, you’re probably thinking I live in an imaginary world of unicorns and double rainbows, and that my speeches aren’t of much use in the real world. But I disagree. The reason I like Mr. Sanders so much is that, whether or not the guy understands every nuance involved in global trade, or whether or not we’ll ever achieve even half of his plans for a better tomorrow, he’s the only politician out there who at least understands what step one is: acknowledging where we’re at and what needs to change. No one else has done this. For all her progressive posturing, Hillary Clinton only recognizes our problems in the abstract, and the minute she’s confronted with specifics, which is what happened in this past week’s debate, she can only give one answer: “it’s complicated.”

And yes, solutions to global trade issues are undoubtedly complicated, probably so complicated I couldn’t come up with a working solution, though I definitely have a few ideas… but the basic philosophies on which those solutions rest are actually quite simple. NAFTA was not created to improve things, just like the TPP is not being created to make the world a better place. It’s right there in the language of the agreements, which remove political power from the actual people and hand it over private industry. No amount of statistics can counter this fundamental affront to public sovereignty. You’ll never be able to argue convincingly that a trade agreement that allows my corporation to sue Thailand if Thailand doesn’t allow me to set up a water-bottling factory next to a particular lake I’ve chosen is a “good” trade agreement, even if you hand me a stack of charts that say “20,000 jobs created” and “$20 mil profits generated”. And that’s just one of the many provisions the TPP’s language allows.

That’s the reason Bernie supporters are so anti-Hillary… because she is willing to go along with these terms. We could maybe claim ignorance in the 90’s when all this de-regulation seemed like it was creating a brighter tomorrow. What’s our excuse in 2016? Hillary still doesn’t see free trade policies as inherently wrong, she sees them as “how the system works”; she might try to make things a little better over here for some group and maybe alleviate something over there for another group, but she’s not going to attack the fundamental problem, and that’s just not good enough. The way we do business globally and domestically is insane, and the disparity of wealth is a direct result of that insanity.

Yes, we are a global economy now, but that doesn’t mean globalization as we know it is inevitable. If anything is inevitable, it’s the demise of a globalized economy, because, in its current form, it is extremely unsustainable. There is just no way we can keep up the amount of products being made, shipped, and bought worldwide ad infinitum. The amount of fossil fuels alone being used up in this process are going to a) run out and b) heat up the planet before either of us care to admit it, and then what? What good will the “globalization is inevitable” and “change comes slowly” arguments do for us then?

Again, I do appreciate the data you provided, and I fully admit that you could be right about how many American jobs were actually lost due to NAFTA (that’s could be since there’s plenty of economic papers attesting to both sides of the argument) and I completely agree that you are right about America’s own consumerist compliance in globalization. But until we stop accepting the basic philosophy governing NAFTA and the WTO, we’re never getting ourselves out of this mess, and are actually making the mess a whole lot bigger.