If You Want To Reform Something, Reform The Trade Agreements

When you hear anyone from the big multinationals or Wall Street using the word “reform,” watch out! The way they use the word, it means give them more and We, the People get less. They want to “reform” Social Security, “reform” Medicare and “reform” the income tax code. And now they want to “reform” the taxes corporations pay on money made outside the US. It’s like “reforming” an oak tree with an ax.

$420 Billion In Taxes Owed

American corporations are holding a lot of (their shareholders’) cash “outside of the country.” (But not really outside.) HOW much money are we talking about? Approx $1.2 trillion as of last March. This is money these companies have made in international profits, owed to their shareholders or potentially used for investment in US jobs, facilities and equipment. But they won’t bring the money back to the US because they would have to pay taxes if they did. Instead they are holding it “outside of the country” and pushing for “reform” — meaning let them out of their tax bill. If this $1.2 trillion were repatriated and taxed at the full corporate tax rate of 35% this would bring an additional $420 billion to the treasury for We, the People to use to rebuild our infrastructure, etc.

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Why Move Jobs From Democracies To Thugocracies?

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
“Free trade” treaties like NAFTA have wiped out entire regions of our country and left entire segments of our population without good-paying jobs — or in so many cases with no jobs at all. And they have had similar results with our trade “partners.” We can see that now. So why are we even talking about doing more of these treaties?
Democracy vs Thugocracy
Democracies set up protections for their people. Democracies protect wages, rights, safety, dignity and the environment. The so-called “free trade” agreements we have been getting into allow companies to get around the borders of our democracy, pitting their employees against the exploited people living under thugocracies with few or no protections at all.
But these treaties have brought vast wealth to a very few, and maybe that was the point all along. Now with the NAFTA and China trade record clear, the DC/corporate elite and Wall Street/Chamber of Commerce multinationals are pushing new trade treaties with South Korea, Columbia, Oman and Panama. Their goal seems to be to make the rich even richer while making things even worse for the rest of us.
NAFTA – “Case Study In Failure”
Ian Fletcher writing at Huffington Post in, More Free Trade Agreements? When NAFTA Failed?,

How have our past trade agreements worked out? Above all, how’s the grand-daddy of them all, NAFTA, doing?
Unfortunately, NAFTA is a veritable case study in failure.

How is NAFTA working out for us?

For the four years prior to NAFTA’s implementation in 1994, America’s annual deficit with Canada averaged a modest $8.1 billion. Twelve years later, it was up to $71 billion.
Our trade with Mexico showed a $1.6 billion surplus in 1993 but by 2010, our deficit had reached $61.6 billion.

Fletcher cites the Economic Policy Institute to detail the dramatic loss of jobs we have suffered. But not just jobs, also wages.

NAFTA has eliminated some 766,000 job opportunities–primarily for non-college-educated workers in manufacturing. Contrary to what the American promoters of NAFTA promised U.S. workers, the agreement did not result in an increased trade surplus with Mexico, but the reverse. As manufacturing jobs disappeared, workers were down-scaled to lower-paying, less-secure services jobs. Within manufacturing, the threat of employers to move production to Mexico proved a powerful weapon for undercutting workers’ bargaining power.

And how is NAFTA working out for Mexican workers? It turned low-wage workers into even-lower-wage workers.

In reality, the income gap between the United States and Mexico grew (by over 10 percent) in the first decade of the agreement. This doesn’t mean America boomed; we didn’t. But Mexico slumped terribly.
In NAFTA’s first decade, the Mexican economy averaged 1.8 percent real growth per capita. By contrast, under the protectionist economic policies of 1948-73, Mexico had averaged 3.2 percent growth.
… Mexican workers can often be hired for less than the taxes on American workers; the average maquiladora wage is $1.82/hr. The maquiladora sector is deliberately isolated from the rest of the Mexican economy and contributes little to it. Workers’ rights, wages, and benefits are deliberately suppressed. Environmental laws are frequently just ignored.
Mexican agriculture hasn’t benefited either: NAFTA turned Mexico from a food exporter to a food importer overnight and over a million farm jobs were wiped out by cheap American food exports, massively subsidized by our various farm programs.
[. . .] Between 1990 and 1999, Mexican manufacturing wages fell 21 percent.

How have our other free-trade agreements worked out? Fletcher again, (please go read his entire post, and take a look at his book, Free Trade Doesn’t Work: What Should Replace it and Why, as well)

FTA is not America’s only free trade agreement, of course. But our other agreements tell similar tales. We have signed 11 since 2000: with Australia, Bahrain, Chile, Colombia, Jordan, Korea, Oman, Morocco, Singapore, Panama, and Peru. (El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic were lumped together in the Central America Free Trade Agreement or CAFTA.) Every agreement but one has coincided with greater American deficits.

Not such a great record. Let’s not do more of this.
A Better Way
Trade doesn’t have to be used to pit people against each other. It can be used to lift each other up. We can instead negotiate treaties to demand that the thugocracies offer better wages and protections, or they can’t sell to us. Or if they do sell to us as add a tariff that undoes any advantage they get from mistreating their people, and use the money to strengthen our infrastructure and competitiveness in world markets. We can use trade to lift the world for the benefit of all instead of to exploit the world for the benefit of a few.
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What “Free Trade” Has Cost The World

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
If you take a job away from someone who is paid a reasonable wage because they enjoy the protections and prosperity of democratic government, move it across a border, and give it to someone living under a thugocracy, forced to work for pennies with no protections whatsoever, it should be just plain obvious that the worker on our side of the border and the worker on the other side of the border are not going to be better off. And when you do this on a massive scale it just stands to reason that most people on both sides of the border are going to be worse off.
But propaganda being what it is we were somehow convinced to try a worldwide experiment in taking good jobs from democracies and turning them into bad jobs in thugocracies. Now, of course, the experiment has run its course and we can see the results.
Worker Against Worker
Setting worker against worker enabled a few people to get really, really really wealthy and powerful and use that wealth to become even more wealthy and powerful. Our country is in decline, burdened by massive trade deficits because the ones with vested interests in cheap labor won’t let us won’t take on the mercantilists, burdened by budget deficits because those vested interests have bought low taxes and government subsidies, our infrastructure crumbles because multinational business leaders refuse to invest here, with no more need of us as workers, and the resulting hollowed-out middle class can’t consume anymore. Other countries also suffer from similar stresses.
Out of this situation a new global elite has emerged, contemptuous of democracy and government and any power but the power of their own money. In country after country, these top few won’t share the proceeds with their own, either, while they keep the world from approaching solutions.
In January’s post, Establishment Realizing: When You Close The Factory We Can’t Make A Living, I wrote about how “the establishment,” or as bloggers call it, “The Village” or “Versailles,” are starting to realize that our trade policies just might not be working for us. Of course, they come to this realization only after our trade deficits approach the trillion mark, after we have lost millions of manufacturing jobs, after we have closed tens of thousands of factories, after we have lost the tech manufacturing industry, and after we have abandoned hopes of leading in green manufacturing as well…
(We’re still waiting for them to realize that tax cuts do not increase revenue, that spending more on military than all other countries combined might contribute to deficits, that our too-big-to-fail financial sector is capable of causing problems, that the climate really is changing, that allowing corporations to pump money into politics means the end of democracy… but hey, a dollar spent by a vested interest on a politician apparently is a dollar very, very well spent.)
In the Washington Post, Steven Pearlstein recently reviewed Dani Rodrik’s “The Globalization Paradox,”

It is dogma among economists and right-thinking members of the political and business elite that globalization is good and more of it is even better. That is why they invariably view anyone who dissents from this orthodoxy as either ignorant of the logic of comparative advantage or selfishly protectionist.
But what if it turns out that globalization is more of a boon to the members of the global elite than it is to the average Jose?

Right, what if?

In “The Globalization Paradox,” Dani Rodrik demonstrates that those questions are more than hypothetical — that they describe the world as it really is rather than as it exists in economic theory or in the imagination of free trade fundamentalists.
. . . The starting point of Rodrik’s argument is that open markets succeed only when embedded within social, legal and political institutions that provide them legitimacy by ensuring that the benefits of capitalism are broadly shared.

And a unicorn. And a rainbow.

The paradox, as Rodrik sees it, is that globalization will work for everyone only if all countries abide by the same set of rules, hammered out and enforced by some form of technocratic global government. The reality is, however, that most countries are unwilling to give up their sovereignty, their distinctive institutions and their freedom to manage their economies in their own best interests. Not China. Not India. Not the members of the European Union, as they are now discovering. Not even the United States.
In the real world, argues Rodrik, there is a fundamental incompatibility between hyper-globalization on the one hand, and democracy and national sovereignty on the other.

Clyde Prestowitz threw a one-two punch at free trade after Senator John McCain claimed that the iPhone and iPad are Made in America. In Why isn’t the iPhone made in America? at Foreign Policy magazine, Prestowitz wrote,

John McCain provided some good laughs and made himself look stupid on a recent ABC news interview by telling Diane Sawyer that the iPhone and iPad are great examples of products that are made in America.
They’re not. And given the amount of high technology production in his state, McCain should certainly have known better. The fact that he didn’t does make you wonder about what, if anything, they know in the U.S. Senate.

Prestowitz goes on to explain that while the iPhone is manufactured in China, parts, software, design and other components are made all around the world, not necessarily for low wages. He concludes,

So if America actually did produce the stuff it says it is good at producing, it wouldn’t have a trade deficit with Asia for which China is the proxy at all. It would have a trade surplus and 20-40,000 more jobs than it has.

Prestowitz looks at a smaller picture here of the back-and-forth of trade with the US and China. Design, software and other capital and technology intensive components are not made in China. But the bulk of the jobs are in China. This could work for everyone if people there were paid enough — and allowed by their government — to buy things made here. That would be trade and everyone would be better off. But trade isn’t really the point of “free trade.”
Then, in It’s not just the iPhone that America doesn’t make, Prestowitz conitinues,

Okay, so yesterday I explained not only that John McCain was wrong to say the iPhone is made in America (as you already knew), but also that most of you were wrong to think it is made in China. I went on to show that the phone is only assembled in China from high-tech parts that are mostly made in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. I further explained that production of these parts is not labor intensive, but capital and technology intensive.
In other words, these parts are just the kinds of products American economists, Silicon Valley venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, and Washington political leaders always say America is the best in the world at making. … Then I left you with the question of why, if America is so good at making this stuff, it doesn’t.
[. . .] it was believed that unilateral free trade (keeping one’s markets open, even in the face of protectionism by one’s trading partners) was a winning proposition. Thus, there was no need to be concerned about things like subsidization of key foreign industries or loss of capability in these fields, and hence no need for trade measures that might upset delicate geopolitical relationships.
This economic doctrine has been based upon the assumption of Anglo/American economics that economies of scale either don’t exist in most traded products and industries or are relatively unimportant. That this assumption is dramatically and demonstrably wrong and not accepted by most of the non-Anglo world has not deterred its application to the making of much American and global trade policy.

In other words, it doesn’t work. But we already knew that. We can see it all around us. And it is us who have to live with the results.
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Free Markets and Ponies

In science you study what happens. In ideology you talk about what you wish would happen. One DEscribes, the other PREscribes.
The Wrath of the Free Market God takes a look at what actually happens when right-wing economic ideology is implemented. Enron, concentration of wealth, corporatization and the Dubai Ports deal.

Make no mistake what is happening. The Globalists are attempting to replace the nation/state with corporate hegemony. In many respects they have already succeeded. Our democracy has been subverted not by dictatorial government takeover, but by the stealth usurpation through a shadowy pay to play scheme. Instead of the traditional coup by military means, an army of corporate lobbyists has descended upon Washington with decidedly similar results.

Now, to be fair, I will grant that what we have with countries like China certainly is not free trade. China “pegs” its currency – and Bush lets them. This means that everything made in China costs about half as much as it should, and everything we make costs Chinese consuers about twice what it should. And our trade with most other countries is certainly not “free” because they by-and-large subsidize industries, don’t allow unions or environmental laws, or so many other non-free-trade violations that you can’t keep up And Republicans let them all get away with it in the name of free-market ideology.
But, of course, that’s the real world, and that’s the point. REAL people take advantage when you let them. That’s where DEscribing what people actually do interferes with right-wing ideological dreams of what people should do. People SHOULD get ponies. But what really happens is we get poorer, lose our health insurance, lose our pensions, lose our manufacturing infrastructure and lose our democracy.