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Monday, February 25, 2008

Cool It in Ohio

posted by on February 25 at 10:54 AM

Sunday’s NYT had some smart stuff on its op/ed page. For the first time ever, I thought Maureen Dowd was interesting to read: Obama’s feminine side, she argued, trumped Hillary’s macho side. I’ve always thought the GOP had an advantage on the Democrats for being the macho party, and Dowd’s ability to turn this on its head was smart analysis.

However, the editorial that I liked most was this one that warned Obama and Clinton against the anti-NAFTA baiting.

The advice is worth quoting at length:

Middle-class voters across the country are legitimately anxious. Tens of thousands of workers have lost their health insurance, while wages have barely risen. But blaming Nafta or any trade agreement only feeds misguided protectionist sentiments at home and strains already difficult relations around the world.

It is also factually inaccurate. In a review in 2003, the Congressional Budget Office concluded that Nafta had slightly increased growth in the United States and that any disruptive effects on employment were small. Trade opens foreign markets for American producers and gives consumers more choices, while competition spurs productivity growth at home.

If the candidates are not careful they will quickly pen themselves into dubious policy positions that they would have to follow, or flip-flop on, once elected.

Would the Clinton administration really stand by its call for a “timeout” on trade deals even if that were to scuttle the Doha round of negotiations aimed at helping the world’s poorest countries? Would an Obama or a Clinton administration follow up on both candidates’ call for a 27.5 percent tariff against Chinese imports as punishment for the manipulation of exchange rates? Give them another week and a half and they might talk themselves into even more difficult corners.

Even more important, the Democrats’ posturing on trade threatens to divert the nation’s attention from what is really needed: a set of domestic policies to help American workers cope with the dislocations wrought by globalization and technological progress.

These policies include health care reform, to ensure that workers who lose their jobs do not lose access to affordable care. It includes improved unemployment insurance, more progressive taxation to deal with the stagnation of middle-class incomes, and more investment in the lifelong training and education of American workers.

The Democrats are already calling for many of these policies. When they rail against trade, they also divert attention from their own strongest suits. The presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, defends free trade, but has only perfunctory proposals on how to help the victims of economic disruption.

The Democrats need to articulate a coherent vision for how this country can compete in and benefit from a globalized world. Taking rhetorical axes to Nafta is not only pandering, it is bad policy and counterproductive.

It’s nice to see the knee jerk Democrats at the NYT’s editorial page buck the party line on globalization.

Look, being anti-NAFTA and anti-WTO is like being anti-EPA.

Sure the current leadership, treaties, and specific rules are troubling, but better to have a governing body in place that, if reformed, stands a chance of checking global corporate power.

I like the idea that there are rules. Let’s not just say the rules suck and walk away. Liberals should embrace the idea that there are bodies and treaties out there that may be able to stop corporate power from running amok.

For example, several years ago, the WTO prevented Boeing from getting $300 million in tax breaks by stopping the Fortune 500 company from channelling sales through overseas subsidiaries.

RSS icon Comments


Josh. The WTO IS corporate power run amok. The sanctions that are dished out to firms are minimal compared to the threats of sanctions on countries with economic policies that put people or environmental stewardship over profits. That's not some historical accident waiting to be benevolently fixed by liberal Democrats.

Being anti-WTO, or anti-NAFTA, is not the same as being anti-trade, btw. It's saying that these trade regimes accelerate "the dislocations wrought by globalization and technological progress." The alternative isn't to stop trading. It's to think up a system for managing the global economy that is DEMOCRATIC, and therefore includes workers and not just corporations in its administration.

Posted by Trevor | February 25, 2008 11:08 AM

Frank Rich's column was right on as well. ECB should read it.

Posted by Luigi Giovanni | February 25, 2008 11:12 AM

I didn't say being anti-WTO is being anti-trade.

The analogy I made was that being anti-WTO is like being anti-EPA.

Currently, you could argue that the EPA is corporate power run amok.

But, since transnational corporations ignore state boundaries, we need an international corporate regulatory body. Things like NAFTA and the WTO are tools of corporate power now, but I'm glad they exist in concept because they can be reformed to actually do the job.

Posted by Josh Feit | February 25, 2008 11:13 AM

This is a bunch of hooey.

NAFTA, like the FTAA, is and was a bad idea, as currently formulated.

And the WTO doubly so.

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 25, 2008 11:14 AM
Look, being anti-NAFTA and anti-WTO is like being anti-EPA.

What an odd thing to say. I mean, given that the WTO codifies rules that allow corporations to sue over lost profits when signatory countries pass environmental laws that affect their bottom line. Could you explain why you chose this metaphor?

Posted by flamingbanjo | February 25, 2008 11:15 AM

Thanks, Josh; you're absolutely right on.

Posted by Fnarf | February 25, 2008 11:16 AM

Thanks good post.

Both candidates are pandering and engaging in the old, divisive politics that does not solve problems.

National health care would remove $4000 in health care costs out of every auto made in America. As for China and Mexico, rare is the antiNATA antiWTO dude who doesn't drive an imported auto or have shirts, clothes or other products from Asia. Rarer still is the one who says "yes, in fact I am in favor of banning trade!"

The solution is to have the government (us) use public resources to nurture and guide development here wehther higher education, infrastructure, improving health, and so on.

Like they do most everywhere else where they are out competing us.

As for the low wage countries and international framework with higher income and environmental standards is needed but bashing WTO or NAFTA doesn't achieve that.

Posted by unPC | February 25, 2008 11:16 AM

WTO, NAFTA, CAFTA, and the other trade agreements were written so that corporate power *could* run amok, with trade agreements trumping locally written environmental and labor protections. Maybe you think that's just ducky. I don't.

Comment on something you at least know *something* about, Josh, like . . . like . . . oh, shit, I give up.

Posted by ivan | February 25, 2008 11:26 AM

@5 got a link to that provision?
People say things but never show us the language.
WTO is one country one vote -- that's democratic. what alternative structure are you proposing?
Your post is a good example of the general anti rant please provide the specific things or rules you want. High tariffs in general? Retaliatory tariffs? No imports from a nation with lower environmental standards than ours? What exactly ?

No international rules?

Or different rules?

Posted by unPC | February 25, 2008 11:26 AM

Um. How does NAFTA and (other globalization) keep corporations from running amok?

It does the opposite. Corporations now run amok, as in running amok around the planet to figure out what country to hire workers in next.

Globalization a la NAFTA breeds WalMart.

Posted by K | February 25, 2008 11:34 AM

NAFTA is more like the UN for corporations. Now, the UN has its flaws, but it helps countries to resolve disputes. It cannot prevent a Permanent Security Council members from waging war, but it does a lot to foster cooperation in other matters as well as limiting the use of military.

The alternative is the law of "might makes right." Point is that some rules are better than none. In terms of labor or environmental laws, NAFTA actually gives an incentive for developing countries to enact environmental and/or labor laws. Prior to free trade, these countries were answerable to no one and cut costs and regulations.

It is not a perfected system, but some rules are better than none.

Posted by Medina | February 25, 2008 11:36 AM

UnPC: I'll go you one better: Here's a link to the Wikipedia entry about the complaint the Bush administration filed through the WTO against EU rules restricting genetically-modified crops. What's more, it worked. The WTO ruled the ban illegal.

This is just one example among many.

Posted by flamingbanjo | February 25, 2008 11:48 AM

"Corporations now run amok, as in running amok around the planet to figure out what country to hire workers in next."
Yes, shifting to low cost producer nations raises incomes and employement there where the poor folks need it the most, and lowers costs for us here in the USA to buy the goods.

What problem are you trying to solve and what are you proposing?
--banning corporations -- capital will still chase low cost production.
--banning imports or enacting large tariffs-- our exports and economy would be destroyed. Real living standards decline.
--banning export of capital: um, if we did we wouldn't get any foreign capital here and our own companies couldn't go be the low cost producer in other nations harming our economy also losing foriegn capital here would devastate us economically.

what exactly are you proposing?

@1"NAFTA actually gives an incentive for developing countries to enact environmental and/or labor laws."
Got a link to the provision in the treaty? This contradicts the other post which said environmental law enactment leads to lawsuits for lost profits. I doubt both statements. Btw I'd like to see an incentive for passing environmental laws but due to the democratic nature of WTO in which Brazil and India and all countries get one vote ... I doubt it is in there.

They seem to think they are sovereign countries and don't need international treaties telling them what their standard of envrio protection should be, or their own minimum wage....

Posted by unPC | February 25, 2008 11:51 AM

@7: You uncritically repeat the Clinton campaign's talking points on a daily basis so maybe you can answer my question: did Hillary Clinton support NAFTA or not?

Like many of her "strong stands" there seems to be conflicting information. She decries Obama's mailers pointing out her support of NAFTA but fails to say she always opposed it. I've heard stories that she secretly opposed NAFTA.

Maybe it's like her secret support of labor during her tenure at Wal-Mart. I don't know but you and Taylor Marsh seem to be plugged into the Clinton campaign more than most so I figure you can answer the question once and for all for the good citizens of Ohio.

Posted by ru shur | February 25, 2008 11:51 AM

As I've noted elsewhere, NAFTA is the chupacabra of trade agreements. Nobody has ever seen it strike, yet it gets the blame for every dead goat.

Posted by RonK, Seattle | February 25, 2008 11:58 AM

Sure are a lot of fricasseed goats lying around the US right now ...

You sure about that?

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 25, 2008 12:16 PM

Will @16 -- Exactly as I said.

If anyone had evidence to the contrary, it could make for an interesting discussion.

Posted by RonK, Seattle | February 25, 2008 12:21 PM


That long op-ed you quoted basically equated being anti-NAFTA with being anti-trade. That's what I was responding to.

As for the EPA, the FCC, the FDA, the NLRB, and all those other regulatory agencies that grew out of social movement activism only to be taken over by the corporations they were meant to regulate: they are broken too. Not because Americans don't want them to regulate corporations, but because our campaign finance system is rotten to the core.

So maybe your analogy is better than you think. We need a new constitution for the WTO before its member states' votes do anything other than simply promote neoliberal globalization/ attack welfare states. Maybe we also need a new constitutional amendment at home where the 1st amendment isn't used to provide cover for corporate interests dominating our electoral process? Until either happens, most of the stuff about how these institutions can be used for good is just pie-in-the-sky rhetoric that provides cover for how bad things really are.

Posted by Trevor | February 25, 2008 12:36 PM

Sometimes I forget how much of an idiot Josh is, luckily he has reminded me once again.

Posted by Todd | February 25, 2008 12:50 PM

I believe both Hillary and Obama criticize these trade agreements for their lack of worker and environmental protections. They complain that our labor an environmental laws put us at a trade disadvantage, while at the same time supporting the principle that trade is good. Thus, a nuanced position.

Typical Josh Feit strawman.

Posted by elenchos | February 25, 2008 1:29 PM

My point is we're knee-deep in fricassed goats, you're just not paying attention to them.

Meanwhile the GDP is actually increasing ... but instead of labor getting 50 percent of it, most of it's going to the CEOs/execs and the consumer base of America is dying as a result.

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 25, 2008 1:58 PM


I don't have much to say about the NAFTA issue, but if you think that Maureen Dowd column was "smart analysis" you have set the bar very, very low.

The girly-man vs. the macho-bitch meme is about the lowest possible quality lens through which to view this campaign. It is sheer idiocy, completely validates GOP taunting, and moves us all away from a real debate and toward school-yard cat-calls.

I used to be an HRC supporter, but have come to the light (more by Annie's comments than yours). But if I'm casting my lot now with people who think Dowd's schtick is insightful, I may need to re-evaluate. Yikes.

Posted by exiled in LA | February 25, 2008 3:28 PM

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