Celebrating NAFTA, plenty of lost jobs

Published 10:16 am Friday, August 21, 2009

Fourteen years ago Americans trusted its leaders from both parties in the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), opening up the markets of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to each other.

The promise to Americans was of more jobs and lower priced consumer goods. Only one of those promises came true.

NAFTA was the beginning of the spread of the doctrine of unregulated trade, a policy that continues to spread across the globe, and that the U.S. has been instrumental in creating.

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The idea was that American business would benefit from sourcing and selling wherever opportunity took place.

But NAFTA and free trade have only worked for big business and Wal-Mart. For most Americans the results have been beyond poor, and they continue to plague our economy.

First, the winners: The beauty of unregulated trade for business is it can seek out manufacturing sites where environmental standards are ignored and pollution is easily tolerated.

It can locate plants where workers live in poverty, without even minimal health care, nutrition, or basic work rules like those prohibiting child labor. It can drive down the value of American workers, the most productive on the planet, by making them compete against workers paid a dollar a day.

Unions cannot fight manufacturers who simply move their plants out of the U.S. should labor make any demands for wages or benefits.

The other winner from NAFTA and the broader unregulated trade policies that make China a huge importer into the U.S. are consumers.

America has access to the goods produced anywhere on the planet, at prices lower than if the goods were manufactured in the U.S. The result? We have more “toys” than we could ever afford in the past, purchased at lower prices.

Sounds great? Big business becomes international in scope, unrestricted by silly rules and regulations, and consumers get to buy lots of stuff really cheap. What could possibly be wrong with this picture?

What is wrong is that Americans did not gain jobs from NAFTA or free trade, they lost jobs.

And the jobs lost were high paying jobs, jobs with benefits and pensions; jobs that have been replaced with low paying jobs, with few benefits and retirement based upon the luck of Wall Street.

We have redistributed our wealth from the middle class to the financial class, who capitalize the continual shift of labor worldwide to the lowest labor costs available.

We have shifted wealth from workers to CEOs who make obscene salaries for seeking out the common denominators for costs and labor.

We have increased the wealth of a few Americans at the expense of all Americans.

Perhaps it is time to draw a few conclusions and create some new policies.

Unregulated big business is not good for America and is not good for the planet. For the profit motive, freed from any responsibility, will destroy and damage all that it touches that conflicts with the primary objective of making more money.

These entities will destroy the environment without conscience, seek out workers who live in abject poverty but labor for their profits, and will buy access to governments, and control over restrictions, wherever they operate.

Americans need fair import regulations, not tariffs designed to protect industry, but rules for imports based upon the payment of living wages and fair treatment of workers and the environment.

We need to recognize that the American consumer market, by far the largest market in the world, has the power to restrict access to our markets to fair traders, responsible businesses that pay their taxes, and countries that do not subsidize their goods to make competition impossible.

Jim Crawford is a contributing columnist for The Tribune and a former educator at Ohio University Southern.