The Deplorable Victims of Free Trade

Suppose you run a workshop near the border. A competitor opens up across the street employing sweated labour. Foul! You cry. Now put this competing workshop just across the national border. Exactly why has the unfair competition become fair?

President George H.W. Bush signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1992. Did he take account of the probability that US manufacturing plants would move to Mexico? Did he consider the economic and social effects that this would have on many thousands of US manufacturing workers, their families and their communities? I doubt it. Elite indifference to the plight of ordinary (“deplorable”) people is precisely the reason why Donald Trump’s populism resonates.

Free trade is totemic for economic rationalists. It is unsurprising that they object to what they consider to be President Trump’s protectionist tendencies. The virtue of free trade is unarguable to its disciples. To them, those who have doubts clearly lack a proper understanding of the benefits it brings. The wellspring of our very progress and future prosperity is brought into question. To be clear, they have a point. No one should doubt the essential role that specialisation and international trade have played, and will continue to play, in creating wealth. That cannot legitimately be brought into question. However, what can legitimately be brought into question is the proposition that each instance of freeing up trade always brings net benefits to all participating countries.

  • lgeubank

    Did Bush take account of the probability that US manufacturing plants would move to Mexico?Didn’t anyone warn him of the “giant sucking sound” of factories going down the drain into low-wage environments?

    • He must have missed the memo.

    • Drunk_by_Noon

      I now believe he didn’t give a damn because his campaign donors would pay him and his party for the privilege of shipping American jobs to the third-world. That was good enough for him!
      In hindsight, I think the Bushes (both of them) were utterly out for themselves and held the American working man in contempt.

      • dance…dancetotheradio

        ‘member the VW Fox?
        What a bucket of bolts.
        A car so bad it made a friend of mine move back to Brazil.

      • Alain

        Also Bush was and is a globalist and this was really incrementalist globalism: regionalism. The North American globalists would also like to see the equivalent of the EU in a N. American union with one currency, one government, etc. Clinton also is part of the globalist club, which is why I really hoped that Trump is not. His promises were not those of a globalist, but things are getting too wobbly for my comfort. Of course our own so-called elite share the globalist agenda with the “post nation” crap, lack of border control, etc.

  • AutismusTheGreat

    A truly level playing field means that factory working and safety conditions are equal everywhere. It is impossible to compete with countries who don’t care if their workers die on the job. We get a lot of Chinese-made crap in Australia. The Chinese factories are not healthy for their workers. Yet Australian employers are forced to provide safe working conditions to Australian workers. That is simply not a level playing field for Aussie employers. Imported Chinese goods should comply with Australian worker safety standards.

  • Felicia Scott

    Just so it’s understood. Bush (and his whole family) are not “Christians” as most people view the word. They are Dominionists. That belief stands on understanding that if you are rich and powerful then god loves you. If you are not rich and powerful, just a lowly peasant trying to get through life the best you can, then god hates you and you are expendable. Dominionism is strong in Texas and has a pretty good grip on most of the elite. Bush only did what his family beliefs expected him to do. He always was an idiot.