The Crumbling Case for NAFTA

The Crumbling Case for NAFTA

A Democratic member of Congress recently asked me over to his office to discuss the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). I explained why I thought it was a bad idea. The three members of his staff who were there agreed with me. The congressman frowned. “Well,” he said, “You may be right about the economics, but we have to do something for [Mexican president] Salinas, don’t we?”

From the time that the idea of a North American Free Trade Agreement between Mexico, Canada, and the United States was first seriously put forward by George Bush and his corporate allies, the Washington policy and media elite assumed that the economic case for the agreement was solid. Free trade is one of the most politically correct positions in the ideological mainstream. Editorialists and reporters, educated in the simplicities of Economics 101, were overwhelmingly for it. Academics and think-tankers, financed by multinational business and the Mexican government, could be counted on to provide a chorus of assent. And Small Business would, as usual, betray its own interests by following the leadership of its social superiors in Corporate America. Given this line-up, the opposition of labor and a few environmental groups could be ignored as Special Interest Protectionism. The only problem was the electorate; polls showed that most Americans did not know about the proposal, but when it was explained, they thought it was a bad idea.

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