Exporting Jobs Is Not “Trade,” It Evades Democracy’s Protections

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
We, the People have fought hard to build and strengthen our democracy. We built up laws and institutions and protections. It has been a particularly hard fight to build a middle class with weekends off, good wages, worker protections and some degree of protection of our environment. Step by step we fought and built, fought and built, and a prosperous democracy with a strong middle class developed.
But this has been changing. Beginning under President Reagan our government has allowed companies to bypass the strong rules that we fought to implement. Companies have been allowed – even encouraged – to pack up and move factories to low-wage, low-protection, non-democracy countries where the workers have no choice but to do what they are told if they want to feed their families and stay out of jail. These workers make the same products that had been made here, sell them in the same stores here, but make them outside of the boundaries of our democratically-won protections. And to make things worse, the companies then demand wage and benefit cuts from the workers who are still here, claiming that “globalization” means they now have to compete with workers with no rights, so they must accept less.
This is not “trade.” This is evasion of our democratically-won protections. Moving a factory across a border to evade the protections that good governments bring to their people is not “trading with other countries” it is evasion of the rules that We, the People placed on the once-level playing field of business.
The results of these anti-democratic policies have been profoundly destructive. What is called free trade has helped bring about an intense concentration of wealth, because poor people without even the benefit of our minimum wage laws are used to threaten or just replace union workers who had fought just to get a piece of the pie.
The globalization argument says that all of this destruction of rights and protections is inevitable. The people are there, they are desperate, they will accept less, so there is nothing we can do about it. Economists even argue that economic theory says this is the correct way to do business. They say that different countries have different “comparative advantages” — some unique ability to produce something better that other countries. Central and South America are better at producing bananas and our Midwest is better at producing grain, so these items should be traded.
It is correct that they grow bananas and we grow grain, but it is not correct to say that countries with democracy, where workers can demand wage, safety and environmental protections as well as protection of the public’s common resources should be pitted against desperate and exploited people, living under repressive governments that they do not have control over. We must now allow lack of democracy and lack of worker or environmental protections to be an advantage, used against us!
We can and must stop this. We have fought this fight before and we can fight it again. We need a democracy tariff at our border that protects us and protects the democracy and its protections that we have fought so hard to build. I will write more about this in my next post.
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