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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars sell out of nations, February 13, 2001
This review is from: The Selling of "Free Trade": NAFTA, Washington, and the Subversion of American Democracy (Hardcover)
MacArthur begins his book from the venerable Swingline Staple Company of Queens, NY, with profiles of employees, union activists, owners over the last 30 years. Not so long a period, but starting at a time when a lattice of low technology manufacturing still ringed the great metropolis and bustled in the lower regions of Manhattan. They provided a modest but sustaining salary and a route to the ladders of American society for generations of immigrants. By the end of that period those societal understandings had given way to a much different order. Swingline moved its operations to the dollar an hour wages and shanty towns of Nogales, Mexico, channeling back product to an American market they were no longer willing to support with their payroll.
The author exposes the shell (or shill) game that took over the debate of North American Free Trade. Politicians as diverse as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton cynically assured the electorate that open trade heralded an era of unequaled prosperity and opportunity, propelled by such vacant aphorisms as the 'information economy' or the 'new realities' of global business. The agenda was marketed as 'inevitable'. The neoliberal lobby managed to bamboozle a skeptical public and buy the political establishment. By 1994 this well financed machine had bribed or bullied its way to passage of NAFTA in all three countries. A full-scale reorganization of continental industry ensued, with an attendant labour disenfranchisement, deindustrialization and currency sabotage.
The corrupt Salinas regime exemplified the motives of the Free Traders. Mexico's acceptance of their wealthy northern neighbors' largesse of 'investment' was extorted in part by their inability to pay the usurious loans of the IMF and foreign banks. NAFTA has since led to a collapsing peso and living standards that have dropped by a third. That has legions besieging the U.S. border. Free Trade, though, means anything but free movement of labour for impoverished Mexicans. Its profit equation hinges on a desperate, captive work force.
In some ways MacArthur's focus on the most ostentatious of Free Trade icons is the book's weakness. Mexico has, after all, no more than 4% of the American GDP. The workers of the maquiladoras are poorly educated and low skilled. It was only the most vulnerable, politically expendable Canadian and American workers who would be sacrificed to NAFTA. Discarding this lynchpin, however, has profound implications to the soundness of any nation's overall socio- economic structure.
The more insidious aspects of the Free Trade movement comes from agreements mentioned only in passing in this book. The Tokyo and Uruguay rounds of GATT, the WTO, a myriad of bilateral agreements, operating below public awareness, are devastating the high tech, high paying upper rung of industry-- steel, agriculture, chemicals, automotive, ship building, textiles, electronics, robotics. These processes sustain a sophisticated scientific infrastructure, critical to any economy that hopes to maintain its industrial integrity. They come easily under attack from countries who provide focused government direction, structural protection, subsidy, targeting the laissez-faire underbelly North American commerce.
The result is clear. Free Trade brings fragmenting inequity, stagnation of incomes, a steady devolution of government services under the drumbeat of 'privatization' and 'deregulation', fragile bubble economies, erosion of industrial capacity. Multitudes are tossed into the dustbin of the new economy, joining the ranks of the working poor or no longer deemed countable even as unemployment statistics. The media blithely proclaims all a success, the human detritus neatly excluded from recognition. This is the real legacy of politicians of all stripes who have sold out their countries to this juggernaut. The dissolution of the sovereign nation state promises a cult of government inertia, leaving the field to the most debased and predatory of commercial interests.
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