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Wednesday, February 08, 2006


W will eventually be recognized as the worst president in history, with his insane militarism combined with tax cuts having bankrupted the country into third-world status. But his far more intelligent and articulate predecessor, Bill Clinton, may well deserve second place, if only for one thing--trade policy. NAFTA and the WTO have been and continue to be disasters for working people in all countries involved.

Harold Meyerson writes in today's WaPo about the devastating effects NAFTA has had in Mexico, while mentioning the more obvious effects here in the US (particularly here in Michigan). Excerpts:
With the number of immigrants illegally in the United States estimated at 11 million, the tensions between Americans and Mexicans -- chiefly, working-class Americans and working-class Mexicans -- are rising. And those are tensions that congressional Republicans, who don't look to have a lot of other issues they can run on this fall, are eager to stoke.

In December the House approved a bill by Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin that would turn all those undocumented immigrants into felons. It would supersede local ordinances that keep police from inquiring into the status of people coming forth to report crimes or help in investigations. It would help create a permanent underground population in our midst, with no hope of ever attaining legal status.

But the most striking aspect of the assault on undocumented immigrants is that it has no theory of causality. Over 40 percent of the Mexicans who have come, legally and illegally, to the United States have done so in the past 15 years. The boom in undocumenteds is even more concentrated than that: There were just 2.5 million such immigrants in the United States in 1995; fully 8 million have arrived since then.
The North American Free Trade Agreement was sold, of course, as a boon to the citizens of the United States, Canada and Mexico -- guaranteed both to raise incomes and lower prices, however improbably, throughout the continent. Bipartisan elites promised that it would stanch the flow of illegal immigrants, too. "There will be less illegal immigration because more Mexicans will be able to support their children by staying home," said President Bill Clinton as he was building support for the measure in the spring of 1993.

But NAFTA, which took effect in 1994, could not have been more precisely crafted to increase immigration -- chiefly because of its devastating effect on Mexican agriculture. As liberal economist Jeff Faux points out in "The Global Class War," his just-published indictment of the actual workings of the new economy, Mexico had been home to a poor agrarian sector for generations, which the government helped sustain through price supports on corn and beans. NAFTA, though, put those farmers in direct competition with incomparably more efficient U.S. agribusinesses. It proved to be no contest: From 1993 through 2002, at least 2 million Mexican farmers were driven off their land.
I'll take issue with Meyerson on one point--US agribusiness is only "incomparably more efficient" as long as oil remains absurdly underpriced. It is also only more efficient in terms of bushels per acre or bushels per dollar. When other metrics are considered--providing jobs, guaranteeing food independence, protecting the environment and preventing soil erosion--US agribusiness isn't necessarily "efficient" at all. But I understand what Meyerson means: US agribusiness can produce farm goods at prices far lower than can the labor-intensive agriculture practiced in Mexico and other poorer countries. (Especially when the labor comes from "illegal" Mexican aliens!) Once Mexican markets were opened to US agricultural products, the ability of Mexican farmers to survive was compromised.

Meyerson goes on to point out that NAFTA hasn't even improved the lot of Mexican industrial workers, and that the overall poverty rate in Mexico has risen under NAFTA. He concludes:
Walls on the border won't fix this problem, nor will forcing cops to arrest entire barrios. So long as the global economy is designed, as NAFTA was, to keep workers powerless, Mexican desperation and American anger will only grow. Forget the fence. We need a new rulebook for the world.
I am constantly amazed at how many Americans, including seemingly most Democrats and "liberals," think that "free trade" is a good thing. It is not. It is one of the main tools being used by the ruling class to keep workers chained and poor. That NAFTA was championed by a Democratic president should not be seen as a reason to support NAFTA; it should be recognized as evidence of the total corruption of the Democratic Party.