Why Free Trade is Devastating to the USA
1) The Original Idea
This is a quick look at Free Trade. I am not against trade. Trade between countries is beneficial as long as all the countries follow the rules. Historically, all countries have placed import taxes of products coming into their countries to protect their own businesses from being destroyed. Some import taxes have been much higher than others. So, in order to improve trade, Free Trade Treaties were created (only 25 short years ago) which basically repealed the import tax. Theoretically, if agreements between countries with the same standards- like the USA and Canada – were created, this would be a good idea.
2) The Problem
The problem with the real life treaties is that the countries do not have similar economic conditions or moral convictions. A third world country will always have a lower cost of living, little regulation in the treatment of workers, unregulated working conditions and no protection of the environment which creates a great advantage in making very inexpensive products compared to developed nations. In addition, many countries have been breaking the underlying principals of trade: some countries have: 1) de-valued their monetary units towards the U.S. dollar (thereby gaining an advantage in exporting into the US); 2) have persistently engaged in the practice of dumping – making so much a product that it artificially lowers prices and puts the other country’s businesses out of business; and 3) have been using slave labor and childhood labor.
3) Manufacturing Towns Take a Big Hit
As the Free Trade Advocates like to say so easily about Free Trade Treaties, there will be some “losers”. It was predicted that some manufacturing would be hurt, but nobody thought for a second that it would be this severe. It was acknowledged that major manufacturing cities would get hit – they were. (Think of Detroit and Flint, Michigan). But so were the small towns.
Within 8 years after NAFTA (North American Free Trade Act) passed, 700,000 American jobs were sent to Mexico. Here is a classic example of NAFTA: Hershey’s Chocolates no longer make any chocolate in the United States, it is all made in Mexico. As Hershey’s offshored all of its US jobs to Mexico. It has created numerous manufacturing ghost towns of cities like Oakdale, CA, Robinson, IL, Hazelton, PA, Stuart’s Draft, VA Naugatuck, CT and, Hershey’s PA. From 1994 to 2015, the Labor Department certified that more than 216,000 workers in North Carolina were displaced by global economic pacts and qualified for assistance — making it the hardest-hit state in the country. (Ref 1).
NAFTA 1994, World Trade Organization 1995, China joins WTO 2001
4) The Loss of U.S. Manufacturing and Other Jobs
The loss of manufacturing jobs is sometimes called deindustrialization. Since 1998, not only have we lost a “net” 8 million manufacturing jobs to offshoring, we continue to shed manufacturing jobs very fast almost at the same rate as we can create new ones. Also, Free Trade Advocates never mention (among many other things) is that we have lost many “associated” manufacturing jobs, like transportation, affiliated jobs, and community jobs that serviced the manufacturing workers which is usually equal to 2.5 to 3 jobs per manufacturing job. In addition (totally separate from manufacturing), there are the millions of service jobs that have been offshored to other countries just so large corporations can make greater profits.
The winner of Free Trade: China. Loser:United States
5) Free Trade Lowers Middle Class Wages
One thing that both Republicans and Democrats can agree on is that middle class wages have been stagnant, and most agree that it is due to disastrous Free Trade Treaties. (Interesting reading, Jared Bernstein’s article: The Era of Free Trade Might Be Over. That’s a Good Thing. – The New York Times). The reason wages are not increasing: 1) manufacturing used to be good paying jobs, but now we have much less manufacturing jobs and the “new” manufacturing jobs that are coming back are paying less; and 2) almost all jobs can be readily off-shored, so it makes it difficult to ask for raises. In fact, 25% of all service jobs or 40 million US jobs could be sent overseas in the next few years. (Ref 3).
6) Which Party Likes Free Trade Treaties?
So, who is to blame for these Free Trade Treaties? Although they are considered “bi-partisan”, it is really more partisan. You can decide for yourself. The North American Trade Agreement NAFTA) was started by Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush in 1990 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in December 9, 1993 after being ratified by the House 234- 200 (Yeas: 132 GOP, 102 Dems, Nays: 43 GOP, 156 Dems) and the Senate 61-38 (Yeas: 34 GOP, 27 Dems, Nays: 10 GOP, 28 Dems).
The Trans-Pacific Partnership Pact (TPP) which will probably pass during the lame duck session (see my entry When Will the TPP Become Law) has had a similar vote. In order to help pass the TPP, Fast Track (meaning you can not filibuster or add amendments to the the TPP), also known as the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) was added. The vote in the Senate: passed 60-38 (Yeas: 47 GOP, 13 Dems; Nays: 7 GOP, 31 Dems & Ind.). The House vote: The vote was 218-208 (Yeas: 190 GOP, 28 Dems, Nays: 50 GOP, 158 Dems).
One of the things that have made Republicans so mad (besides listening to right wing media) is that their political party has consistently made their lives worse by supporting Trickledown economic theories, with the worst one being the Free Trade Treaties. And yet, the Republicans want to pass an even bigger one, the TPP, which is expected to cost the US 2 million jobs in just one year. (Ref 2).
7) Other Criticisms of Free Trade
There are many arguments besides economic against Free trade policies. First, Free Trade heavily favors large corporations destroying infant industries as well as the small and medium sized companies. It undermines long-run economic development – it is difficult to revive manufacturing ghost towns, and difficult to plan for growth when American jobs can be offshored at any time. Free Trade has definitely caused income inequality, and environmental degradation.
Free Trade is supportive of countries sticking to their native practices which often means supporting child labor and working in sweatshops where workers get no benefits in often poorly ventilated and dangerous work environments.
Free Trade has definitely caused the race to the bottom, wage slavery, accentuating poverty in poor countries, harming national defense, and forcing cultural change. One additional criticism is that it allows large corporations to ignore local, state and governmental rules and laws: U.S. Appeals WTO Ruling on Meat Labeling Laws – where the American Meat Institute refused to label their meats as to where the originated. The Congress has successfully repealed the Country of origin labeling law this past winter. Instead of raising global standards, free trade tries to lower standards of countries that are more advanced. We need to stop all of these Free Trade Treaties, because they are devastating to the USA in so many ways.