Free Trade at the Crossroads
A group of anti-TPP protesters in Dallas, Texas. Image: Backbone Campaign/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A group of anti-TPP protesters in Dallas, Texas. Image: Backbone Campaign/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

4th November 2016

By Jerry Haar
Trade agreements are like oysters, Jägermeister and Jackson Pollock paintings—you either love them or hate them.
In the current political milieu, anti-trade proponents have the upper hand, relegating vocal champions of free trade to a tiny minority. Damning free trade agreements, especially NAFTA and TPP, is the contemporary equivalent of “Remember the Alamo!” and “Remember the Maine!”—rallying cries to mobilize the masses into a frenzy. Witness Donald Trump who has blasted NAFTA as “the worst trade agreement in history” (an empirically false accusation) and claims that because of our free trade agreements “we’re losing our jobs like a bunch of babies.” (Although I for one have never met any toddlers who were unemployed members of the AFL-CIO’s pipefitters and iron workers’ union.)
Recognizably, in our post-Great Recession climate of anxiety, uncertainty, fear and anger, the human psyche easily falls prey to simplistic messages and the search for a scapegoat. That scapegoat is free trade agreements of which NAFTA is the poster child. Unfortunately, the post-NAFTA U.S. economy coincided with rapid globalization, technological change, and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization. These changes, not NAFTA per se, produced almost all the negative impacts that its critics claim. Since its inception trade expanded from $290 billion to more than $1.1 billion in 2016. The export-related jobs created annually pay 15% to 20% more, according to Peterson …

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