I get it. Many who read this blog and many people who label themselves “progressive” hate the very idea of the Trans-Pacific Partnership; you know, the dreaded TPP. But have you ever asked them why they hate the TPP? I have yet to see anyone who is dead set against the TPP point to a specific provision in the TPP that is bad for us.
Now, I’ve read the whole thing, front to back. There are a few things in there that trouble me, as someone who makes part of his living dealing with Intellectual Property issues, but I must be honest; those worries are not enough to make me want them to scuttle the entire agreement. See, here’s the deal; if we don’t do it, the other countries who have signed on will, which means, instead of trading partners, we will have even more competition.
And please stop telling me the TPP is bad “because NAFTA.” ONE study claims that “700,000 jobs were lost due to NAFTA.” I’m sorry, but NAFTA turned 22 years old on Jan. 1. Subsequent to that, 23 million jobs were created during Clinton’s term and about another 12 million or so have been created during Obama’s term. Therefore, I have a big problem with anyone who attempts to claim that they can pinpoint 700,000 job losses that happened specifically due to NAFTA. Even if it was true, that’s fewer jobs than the Bush Recession destroyed in a typical month, and it’s been 22 years. Obviously, the loss of 700,000 jobs is not ideal, but then, a couple of obvious questions come to mind. Of the 35 million jobs created during the Clinton and Obama terms, is it possible that some of those were created due to NAFTA? And if, say, 2 million of them could be attributed to NAFTA, doesn’t that make it a net plus?
I’m not saying that’s a real number. The fact is, we don’t know and can’t possibly ever know for sure. However, if you haven’t been to any of the cities and towns along the borders of Canada and Mexico, you might check them out; there are a lot more businesses there these days. I’m currently in Tucson, Arizona and where I live is about 55 miles from the border with Mexico. Every weekend our streets are flooded with cars bearing Sonora license plates. It’s hard to believe they do so much shopping here and no jobs were created at all. I mean, sure, I have heard the anecdotal stuff. There’s the story told by a prominent radio talk show host about a tool and dye company that closed up in Michigan and moved to Mexico post-NAFTA. However, if we’re being honest, most such stories happened well before NAFTA. Maquiladoras were a thing well before we signed NAFTA. In fact, the increase in income in the Maquiladoras has increased about 16% since NAFTA, which would indicate that most of it existed before that. Not only that, but I could tell another story of a manufacturer of kitchenware that reopened a new factory because they suddenly saw huge demand for their product from consumers in Mexico, primarily because their economy was no longer in the toilet.
There’s something more concrete out there; some actual facts. If you like to claim climate change is real because 97% of climate scientists say it is, then you have to reject the notion that NAFTA was a horrible thing for the U.S. economy. According to a survey of economists published by the Initiative for Global Markets (IGM) in 2012, 95% of economists agreed that NAFTA was a net positive. In fact, the other 5% couldn’t actually say whether it was or wasn’t. Not a single one said that NAFTA was a net negative for the economy. (Source) If that’s not enough, in 2001, the Journal of Economic Perspectives published a study of economic data and found that, while the benefit from NAFTA was greater for Mexico, there was also a net benefit for the United States and Canada. (Source) In addition, that study found no net negative effect on the U.S. Labor market.
So, NAFTA haters, how does it feel to be the economic equivalent of a climate change denier? And to those who hate the TPP based on the belief that our economy was screwed by NAFTA, how do you feel about that belief now? It should be a bit shaky. People who actually study this stuff say you’re wrong if you think NAFTA has had such a terrible effect on the economy. So why should we trust these same people on TPP? I mean, if the entire basis for being against TPP is because NAFTA was bad, and NAFTA wasn’t actually bad, what happens to your objection to TPP?
A better question right now is, what should we do? Are we really supposed to reactively reject all trade deals forever and ever? And why would we do that? Because the professional left, most of whom have no idea what’s in the TPP, tell you that you must, if you’re to be considered a “good progressive”? What do these same reactionaries feel about fully protectionist policies, in which the United States serves as its own market for everything? Are you prepared to pay 10 times as much for just about any consumer product you can name?
Trade agreements are absolutely necessary, especially in a world in which we are no longer the only surviving economic power. After World War II, Europe and Asia were in shambles and it was easy to be on top of the world then. However, as the world came back, we kept our same posture, which is ultimately bad for us. We’re no longer the only dog on the porch. In fact, we’re on the verge of being knocked off the porch because we act as if we should still be the only economic superpower. Yes, there are economic problems that have to be dealt with. The levels of income inequality must be dealt with, but we can’t do that by hiding in the corner and pretending the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Trade deficits are also a big problem, but contrary to popular myth, they are not caused by free trade and globalization, so much as a strong dollar, which makes investments in the United States one of the best bets in the world.
There is a lot of demagoguing coming from the professional left. It’s even infected the Sanders campaign. For example, during the Michigan primary, Sanders smacked Clinton around for supporting “free trade policies” that led to the decline of the auto industry in that state. There’s just one problem; the decline in the auto industry started long before NAFTA, and even well before its predecessor, the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement. Yes, that’s right; there was a previous agreement in place for years before, and only became an issue with many white liberals when Mexico was added to it; read into that what you will. In fact, the problems with the auto industry were apparent in the 1970s, when they refused to respond to rising oil prices to produce energy-efficient cars. Japan was kicking our asses in the late 1970s, long before NAFTA.
That is not to say that everyone who is in favor of their version of “free trade” is a temple of virtue. There’s a lot of dishonesty on both sides. Some trade policies are odious, such as the one perpetrated under the GOP and led by St. Reagan, in which companies were given tax incentives to send manufacturing offshore. That’s right, the Maquiladora concept was hatched under Nixon and fed by Saint Reagan, NOT by Hillary’s husband, Bill Clinton and his passage of NAFTA – which, by the way, contained no labor and environmental provisions at all until he added them.
The TPP is not perfect. In fact, there are many rational arguments to be made against it. However, the most prominent argument, “because NAFTA,” is silly on many levels. In fact, the TPP actually corrects several deficiencies that the professional left likes to complain about, including measures that would slow hydrocarbon emissions and which would force China’s hand, to make them more cooperative with the rest of the world. If you have a viable alternative to TPP, then present it, but it makes no sense to just pretend it doesn’t exist and demand that the United States become an international trade island. You grow the economy by opening up the rest of the world to the goods you make, not by sealing the borders and pretending we can do it all alone. Stop being silly; be progressive.