An excellent series in the Detroit Free Press earlier this month noted that partly as a result of Free Trade practices, the Motor City is no longer a blue collar town. Detroit has lost so many manufacturing jobs that white collar workers in high tech industries now outnumber their blue collar counterparts in manufacturing. Unfortunately, even white collar jobs are being outsourced now. Why should an automotive company hire an American engineer fresh out of college when it can outsource the job to an engineer in India who will gladly accept a fraction of the pay, and of course, no benefits?
There certainly is a good side to Free Trade (I‘ve taken the liberty of capitalizing the term as a proper noun). Anyone might agree with its supporters that removing protectionist tariffs is a sensible idea and a good way for trading partners among many nations to prosper. Protectionism of industries and tariffs in the 20th century were factors that led to a global depression, an underlying cause of World War II.
So, chalk one up for Free Trade on that score.
Unfortunately, Free Trade as it‘s been practiced in the United States over the past decade has been anything but free or fair.
For starters, you have to understand that “Free Trade“ is an Orwellian term that means something radically different or even the opposite of what it suggests; just as the Bush Administration‘s “Clear Skies Act“ is a subterfuge for pumping more coal fumes into the atmosphere to benefit power companies.
Another example of Orwellian doublespeak is the No Child Left Behind program, which has a touchie-feelie sound, but is designed to deny federal funding to school districts that are already struggling. Or the Wildfire Act of 2003, a sensible-sounding ruse which handed our old-growth national forests over to the timber companies; the same loggers who created thousands of acres of brush piles that led to huge forest fires in the first place.
“Free Trade“ has the same doublespeak connotation. It sounds fair and sensible, but its a wolf in sheeps clothing. Its real aim is the wholesale transfer of American jobs to cheaper labor markets in other countries.
Kevin Phillips, author of the bestseller “American Dynasty“ about the Bush family, says that NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) of the early 1990s was mostly about gaining “access by U.S. corporations to low-cost labor within Mexico.
In Mexico, Phillips notes, employees make an average of $1.50 per hour at the factories established by U.S. companies just across the border. The result has been a trade deficit of $1.7 billion in 1993 that rose to $31 billion in 2002... and of course the loss of jobs in Michigan, such as the Electrolux refrigerator plant in Greenville moving south of the border.
Phillips says the corporate dream of exporting jobs to cheaper countries dates back to the mid-1800s, when wealthy slave-owners in the South schemed to annex northern Mexico as well as Cuba and Nicaragua. “Once incorporated into the United States, these lands would become slave-owning societies managed by southerners,“ he writes.
This dream is still very much alive today under the Free Trade banner which has allowed U.S. companies to flee their obligation to our fellow citizens while enjoying all the benefits of a democracy, including military protection.
For the people presently in power in the White House, such practices make perfect sense. Texas was an independent country founded by slaveowners before it joined the U.S. It owes its cultural heritage more to the exploitive thinking of Spanish Mexico than it does to the traditions of Thomas Jefferson or James Madison. Today, Texas, the home state of George Bush, is one of the worst states in the country in terms of the gap between the rich and the poor. This Texanomics trend benefiting the rich at the expense of the poor and the destruction of the middle class is headed our way.
Job flight to Mexico and its trade deficit is only part of our Free Trade problem.
Consider this: Wal-Mart, now the biggest company on earth and by far the largest retailer, presently obtains 80% of the products it sells from the Republic of China, according to the Detroit Free Press. The average worker in China makes less than $2 a day.
Last year, our country had a trade deficit of $130 billion with China, whose Free Trade practices include rigging its currency so that its products are even cheaper than U.S. manufacturers can compete with.
Free Trade as we know it has created a vicious circle. This is a simplified view, but consider: American consumers buy cheap stuff from China down at Wal-Mart, making it impossible for our own manufacturers to compete. Soon, the companies disappear and the shoppers are out of a job themselves. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart destroys local businesses because it can cut costs on its products even further by paying its employees low wages and few, if any, benefits. Soon, the out-of-work consumer is begging -- begging -- even for a low wage job because it‘s brutally expensive to live in America.
Oh, and by the way, Free Trade advocates; no countrys economy in the history of the world has ever survived running a national trade deficit. Theres a tipping point at which even empires are goners. But, of course, that wont matter to our corporate fat cats, who wont have a clue behind their gated communities, secure in their Hummers with their bodied-armored security guards as they drive through the Third World wasteland of whats left of America. If you think weve got militias in America now, wait until that day comes.
Where will this end? Hopefully, on election day, 2004.