Democracy Improves Lives In China – And Here, Too

Democracy properly applied brings widespread prosperity because when people have a say what they say is give everyone good wages, benefits and a share of the pie. They say reinvest some of the profits in infrastructure and education to keep the good times rolling. Last but not least they demand equal enforcement of the rule of law. Undercut those things and what you get is … well, you get what we see happening all around us today…

Democracy Improves Lives

Here is a surprise that isn’t a surprise in the WSJ today: Democracy Improves Lives of People in China,

A little bit of democracy has gone a long way to improving people’s lives in China.
Such is the conclusion arrived at by four economists who recently published the results of an investigation into the economic effects of China’s village elections.
Studying elections from 1982 through 2005, the quartet found villages that elected their leaders spent 27% more, on average, on “public goods” such as schools, tree plantings and irrigation canals than villages that didn’t hold elections. Elected officials also helped vastly reduce the gap between rich and poor.
Why the gains? Largely because elected leaders pay attention to their constituents as a way to assure their re-election. “The increase in leader incentives is an important driver” of change, write Monica Martinez-Bravo of Johns Hopkins University, Gerard Padro i Miquel of the London School of Economics, Nancy Qian of Yale University and Yang Yao of Peking University, in a National Bureau of Economic Research paper. [emphasis added, in order to add emphasis]

Prosperity Is Fruit Of Democracy

This is not a surprise. When people have a say, they say they want better. And when We, the People are were in charge, we got it. Because Americans had a say we built up a country with good schools, good infrastructure, good courts, and we made rules that said workers had to be safe, get a minimum wage, overtime, weekends… we protected the environment, we set up Social Security. We took care of each other. This made us prosperous. A share of the prosperity for the 99% was the fruit of democracy.

Unions Enforce Democracy

Before unions came along to enforce the idea of democracy we didn’t get the share of the prosperity that democracy promised, after unions we did. Before unions we had 12 (or more)-hour workdays, seven days a week. Before unions we had low pay. Before unions we had no benefits. Before unions we certainly didn’t get vacations. Before unions we could be fired for no reason. Before unions a wealthy few were able use their wealth to pay off influence legislators and keep the rules bent in their favor. Unions organized and forced changes that brought a larger share of the pie to We, the People.
Unions enforce the concept of democracy. Yes, We, the People were supposed to be in charge. Yes, the economy was supposed to be for our benefit. Why else would We, the People allow corporations to exist in the first place? It was unions that gave people the power to enforce that idea. People organized together and demanded that We, the People get a share of the pie, and the results grew the pie. Unions are why we have had a middle class.

Our Prosperity Made Us A Big Market

That prosperity meant that we had a very big market that the rest of the world wanted to sell to. This market power gave us leverage. We protected that market by refusing to let in goods made by exploited workers without applying a tariff. This tariff kept the price of imported goods from undercutting the prices of goods made here by people who have a say, and said they were going to get a share of the pie. The tariffs helped pay for good schools and good infrastructure that gave our companies a competitive advantage in the world, even where people were paid less.

“Free” Trade Undermines Democracy

But for decades the democracy experiment has run the other way. Our “free” trade agreements have undercut our democracy. We allowed goods made by exploited workers to come in and undercut the good wages that we were receiving because we had a say. The exploited workers elsewhere were used as a hammer over our heads: “Accept lower wages and cuts in benefits or we will move your job out of the country.” From Democracy V. Plutocracy, Unions Vs. Servitude,

Workers in countries like China where people have no say have low wages, terrible working conditions, long hours, and are told to shut up and take it or they won[t have any job at all. They are given no choice.
Increasingly workers here have their wages, hours, benefits, dignity cut and are told to shut up and take it or their jobs will be moved to China. Because we are pitted against exploited workers in countries where people have no say, we have no choice.

And the result was that our share of the pie got smaller and smaller. The concentrated wealth has been used to undermine our democracy, and we are in a downward spiral — a “race to the bottom.”

Decades Of “Free” Trade Has Made Us Poor

Corporate conservatives like Speaker Boehner like to say “We’re broke“:

House Speaker John Boehner isn’t going to step in to stop proposed cuts for a low-income heating program.
Asked specifically about why now is time to be cutting LIHEAP and other key programs to help poorer Americans, the Ohio Republican said, “Everything is on the table. We’re broke. Let’s be honest with ourselves.”

If, as they claim, “we’re broke,” then how did we get that way? By undercutting our democracy with “free trade” agreements, that led to terrible trade deficits. The Trade Deficit Keeps Draining Money From Our Economy,

Another month and another terrible trade deficit report. Why is it that DC elites who profess to care so much about deficits say so little about our worst deficit? The trade deficit drains money from our economy, lowers our wages and forces us into an ever-lower standard of living.
…Here is the formula since Reagan:
1) We open our borders to imported goods made in places where people don’t have a say, so they don’t have good wages or environmental protections. We send our factories over there and import “cheap goods” into the country.
2) This sends dollars over there, and they don’t buy back from us (that would be actual trade), so they accumulate the dollars as they drain our economy.
3) Then we borrow those dollars back to fund the tax cuts for the rich. Our rich get richer, the rest of us get poorer, while they gain more and more power over us. The tax cuts force us to cut back and cut back on schools and infrastructure and other things that make us competitive
4) Meanwhile the imports from over there are used to break the unions and drive wages and benefits down over here.
5) Bob’s your uncle, here we are where we are today.

The economic result of decades of these trade agreements demonstrates that when we let in products made where people don’t have a say it undercuts our own economy. We opened the borders and let the big companies move the jobs, factories and industries over the border of our democracy, to places where workers don’t have a say, so they are exploited. And the result was the big corporations were able to come back and cut our pay, and get rid of our pensions, and tell us, “take it, shut up, or we will move your job, too.” We allowed the 1%ers to make the benefits of democracy into a competitive disadvantage! From Free Trade Or Democracy, Can’t Have Both,

How often do you come across arguments that “globalization” and “free trade” mean that America’s workers have to accept that the days of good-paying jobs and US-based manufacturing are over? We hear that countries like China are more “competitive.” We hear that “trade” means that because it’s cheaper to make things over there we all benefit from lower-cost goods that we import.
How often do you hear that we need to cut wages and benefits, work longer hours, get rid of overtime and sick pay? They say we should shed unions, get rid of environmental and safety regulations, gut government services, and especially, especially, especially we should cut taxes.
What they are saying is that we need to shed our democracy, to be more competitive.

The 1%ers Say Jobs Solution Is Be “Business-Friendly”

With our wages and benefits cut out from under us and our working hours lengthened the corporate conservatives demand more, saying we need to be more “business-friendly” to compete with countries like China. They oppose the minimum wage. They oppose pensions. The oppose health care benefits. They oppose unions. They say we have to cut taxes on the rich and corporations or they will leave, taking their jobs elsewhere. “Business friendly” means giving the 1%ers everything they want.
In fact, China Is Very “Business-Friendly”. So was the South, before the Civil War.
But it remains a fact, where democracy flourishes prosperity follows. Where democracy is weak, so is the economy for regular people. And when regular people are not doing well there isn’t much of a “market.” Democracy is the only economics that works.
Join me at the June 18-20 “Take Back the American Dream” conference.
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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For 2012 Let’s Restore Our “Industrial Commons”

David Brancaccio’s Marketplace story Tuesday, Decline of Kodak offers lessons for U.S. business traced the decline of Kodak and the loss of Rochester, NY’s good, middle-class jobs to Kodak’s failure to tend its “industrial commons.” This is a national problem. For 2012 let’s resolve to restore our industrial commons and bring manufacturing back to the U.S.
Kodak on Marketplace
Listen to Tuesday’s Marketplace story, Decline of Kodak offers lessons for U.S. business.
Click to listen.
Story summary: Kodak didn’t tend its “industrial commons,” the local concentration of expertise in making the things that go into a camera.

You make your money by selling cameras. And you now needed to make components. You needed to make lenses; you needed to make shutters — all kinds of things that the skills for which no longer existed in Rochester.

This is what we have done in our country, too. We have been dismantling our “industrial commons.” By sending manufacturing out of the country we have been taking apart the supply chains and abandoning the expertise and skills and culture that go with it.
Other Warnings
Last year former Intel CEO Andy Grove sounded a warning about this problem. In How to Make an American Job Before It’s Too Late. Grove wrote that we are not just losing jobs to China, we are losing the “chain of experience” that enables new companies and industries to form and to create new jobs and argues for a national economic strategy to preserve our manufacturing and technology base. He lays out a plan: “rebuild our industrial commons,”

The first task is to rebuild our industrial commons. We should develop a system of financial incentives: Levy an extra tax on the product of offshored labor. (If the result is a trade war, treat it like other wars—fight to win.) Keep that money separate. Deposit it in the coffers of what we might call the Scaling Bank of the U.S. and make these sums available to companies that will scale their American operations. Such a system would be a daily reminder that while pursuing our company goals, all of us in business have a responsibility to maintain the industrial base on which we depend and the society whose adaptability—and stability—we may have taken for granted.

We Gave It Away
Many American manufacturers made a deal with China to lower their manufacturing costs. Here is how it worked: Americans (used to) have a say in how this country was run, and said they want good wages, benefits, job safety, clean air, etc. These are the fruits of democracy, but to some they are an impediment to quick profits. So executives at the big multinational companies wanted a way around the borders of democracy and its demands, and pushed for “trade” deals that would let them move manufacturing to places where people had no say, in order to force American unions to make concessions. They got their deals and packed up our factories, moved them to places like China and then brought the manufactured goods back here to sell.
We lost 50,000 factories to China just in the ‘W’ Bush years, and our trade deficit soared, and now we as a country are paying the price. Making (and growing) things is how a country earns its living. It is how we bring in the income with which to buy things others make and grow. Leo Gerard of the United Steelworkers said it clearly,

“You don’t create real wealth by flipping coupons or hamburgers, you create it by taking real things and turning them into things of value. And those things of value are turned into other things of value and all of a sudden you have a wind turbine with thousands of parts made here. You can’t have a clean economy without good jobs and can’t have good jobs without a clean economy.”

We just gave it away, and justified the loss by saying that better things will replace it. The result has been ever-increasing trade deficits that brought us a huge debt that makes us poorer. Our debt is not because of government spending, it is because we have given away our ability to make a loving!
An Ideology To Justify
In the process the 1%’ers who did this to us developed an ideology around hating America and democracy. To justify outsourcing our jobs and factories they said Americans had grown lazy and wanted handouts. They said that the huge profits reaped by a few from selling off our manufacturing infrastructure meant they were “producers” and that democracy was “statism” and “collectivism” that enabled the “parasites” to “steal” from them. They declared that “taxes are theft” that “punish” the “successful” and the “job creators.” They stopped funding infrastructure and education and law enforcement, denegrating these as “government spending,” and declared that the wealthy few have a “right to rise” and saying the rest of us are “imbeciles.”
They moved our “industrial commons” out of the country, closing the factories and thereby dismantling the supply chains and the “chain of experience” that enable us to innovate and compete. They let China capture the lead in emerging green manufacturing technologies that will bring millions of jobs and trillions of dollars. They even let China extort proprietary technologies, in exchange for short-term profits.
They rode the tiger and now the tiger is coming back to bite us.
Riding The Tiger
Richard Eskow reminded me of an old Chinese saying, “He who rides the tiger cannot dismount.” American manufacturers rode the Chinese tiger to short-term profits, and now they cannot dismount. They “partnered” with China to get around the borders of democracy and the good wages and benefits democracy demands. But now the tiger wants more. The tiger wants to eat them up.
Riding the tiger: Forbes: Currency Manipulation is NOT the Biggest Chinese Threat,

China’s hidden threats are a multi-headed info-tech “Hydra,” the parts of which are interrelated:

  • Intellectual property rights violations (or lack of enforcement in China) allowing open theft of proprietary designs, etc.
  • Theft of private-sector technology (which has been going on for years) accelerating Chinese development cycles
  • Growing number of cyber-attacks, accessing highly confidential US government information, costing the US private sector billions of dollars in IT disruption.
  • Growing military/technology stolen secrets (e.g., stealth fighter plane designs, acquisition of downed stealth-helicopter parts from the bin Laden attack, electronic technology & software from US companies in China, etc.)

Riding the tiger: NYT: Chinese Rules Said to Threaten Proprietary Information,

China is expected to issue regulations on Saturday requiring technology companies to disclose proprietary information like data-encryption keys and underlying software code to sell a range of security-related digital technology products to government agencies, American industry officials said on Friday.

Riding the tiger: Fiscal Times: Stealing America: China’s Busy Cyber-Spies,

Economic and industrial spying by China appears to be more pervasive and egregious than ever, costing America billions of dollars each year, according to a new report by a U.S. government agency. And the report raises an important question: If stolen trade and technology secrets help fuel China’s breakneck growth, then is more espionage required to feed the growing beast?

The Chamber of Commerce rides the tiger: WSJ today: China Hackers Hit U.S. Chamber: Attacks Breached Computer System of Business-Lobbying Group; Emails Stolen,

A group of hackers in China breached the computer defenses of America’s top business-lobbying group and gained access to everything stored on its systems, including information about its three million members, according to several people familiar with the matter.
The break-in at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is one of the boldest known infiltrations in what has become a regular confrontation between U.S. companies and Chinese hackers.

They rode the tiger. But now the tiger wants more. The tiger wants to eat them up.
Let’s Resolve To Rebuild American Manufacturing
Let’s resolve to rebuild American manufacturing, starting in 2012. Manufacturing is the backbone of a prosperous economy. Let’s resolve to bring back good jobs that pay good wages and unpin a middle-class lifestyle. Let’s resolve to balance trade with the rest of the world so we can fight our debt problems. Let’s resolve to start fighting to win the lead in the Green manufacturing revolution.
Don’t let the “free traders” exploit workers in countries where they do not have a say to force concessions from Americans in unions. Don’t let the oil and coal companies create false “scandals” like Solyndra to block government from investing in green alternatives. Don’t let the 1% make democracy a competitive disadvantage — democracy is the only economics that works!
Last week President Obama appointed Commerce Secretary John Bryson and National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling to co-chair a new White House Office of Manufacturing Policy. The new Office of Manufacturing Policy will have cabinet-level status, reflecting the importance of the manufacturing sector to our economy. It will coordinate the efforts of different government agencies, such as the Small Business Administration, the Department of Commerce and the Transportation Department.
This is a positive step if there ever was one. Let’s resolve to develop and execute a national manufacturing strategy. (please click through)
It is time to restore our national “industrial commons.”
Frank Sobatka explains:

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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Trade Agreements Kill Jobs, Wages, Democracy

Our trade agreements have pitted working people in countries that do not protect rights or people against the working people here who fought to win the protections of democracy. The result has been devastating to our communities, our economy and our democracy.
America is (was, anyway) a democracy governed by We, the People. As Monday’s Memorial Day ceremonies remind us Americans fought and sacrificed to build and keep the protections and benefits that democracy offers. Those include good jobs with good wages, worker safety laws, rules preventing companies from polluting, and so many other things that companies complain make us less “business-friendly.” But we got involved in “trade” deals that let countries get around democracy’s protections, pitting employees here against people who have no voice, no power and no money. You can see the results all around us.
Korea, Panama, Columbia … and China
Now we’re looking at new trade agreements with Korea, Panama and Columbia. The President is holding out for assistance for all the workers who will be displaced while Republicans say, “Why bother?” Neither side is holding out for agreements that lift workers on both sides of the border.
But these agreements will hurt American workers and communities by lowering wages and killing jobs. For example, the National Council of Textile Organizations, American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, National Textile Association, American Fiber Manufacturers Association, U.S. Industrial Fabrics Institute got together to warn that,

We have analyzed the agreement carefully and come to the unfortunate conclusion that the textile portions of the KORUS agreement are seriously flawed. If passed in its current form, the agreement will open the U.S. market to a massive one-way flow of sensitive textile products from South Korea, as well as illegal Chinese imports, while providing no new export business to our textile manufactures and workers.

And more clearly, there are …uh … labor rights “problems” in Columbia, too: Colombian Labor Rights Lawyer in Critical Condition after Assassination Attempt,

On May 13, 2011, armed men on motorcycles fired five bullets into labor rights lawyer Hernán Darío in the heart of downtown Cali, Colombia. Mr. Darío is the lead attorney in a high-profile case defending the leaders of a group of sugarcane workers who led a labor strike in 2008 from criminal charges. While no one has taken responsibility for this shooting, it is widely believed to be connected with the sugar strike and Mr. Dario’s defense of the sugar workers.
The shooting comes only weeks after the Colombian government agreed to implement a “U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan,” a plan to make improvements in labor rights conditions in Colombia, in connection with U.S. Congressional consideration of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the U.S. and Colombia. The shooting underscores the continuing and serious labor rights problems in Colombia. It also calls into question whether there has been real progress on the labor rights situation in Colombia.

Of course, arguments over these are really proxies for our trade relationship with China, which is the real problem because it is the biggest problem. Our trade deficit with China is in the hundreds of billions – meaning they sell to us and don’t buy from us, costing jobs, lowering American wages and increasing our debt. And China not only cheats, they really cheat. This is from Another Reason CEOs Should Rethink Outsourcing and Offshoring,

Fellowes Inc., one of the world’s largest makers of office and personal paper shredders, is witnessing the destruction of its business, as its large Chinese manufacturing plant has been shut down by its joint venture manufacturing partner.
The company’s Chinese joint venture firm has barred 1,600 employees from entering the plant, stolen all of its proprietary manufacturing production equipment and forced the venture into bankruptcy. The contracts Fellowes signed with its Chinese production company meant nothing. For Fellowes, there is no such thing as rule of law in China.
The Itasca, Ill.-based company has lost $168 million worth of business and is no longer able to produce personal shredders for the world market. It has taken its case to Chinese courts, to no avail. It has pleaded with members of Congress and federal agencies, with no results.

Wrong Turn On Trade
“Trade” is when you … uh … trade with others. A country might be able to grow bananas, and need machine tools, so you set up a deal to trade with them. And you both benefit!
But “trade” is not supposed to mean you just let a company just close their factories here because they don’t want to pay reasonable wages or protect worker safety or the environment, or pay taxes to support the communities that provide workers and services and customers. You don’t just let them send those jobs across a border to a “business-friendly” country that will let them pollute at will or treat employees like slaves and then think they can just bring the same products they used to make here back here to sell.
Somewhere along the way we made a wrong turn that has taken down a road toward ruin. Somewhere along the way we made a deal with the devil to let a very few people here get extremely wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.
The Cost To Communities
These trade agreements have had a terrible effect on our manufacturing communities, particularly in the midwest. From last year’s post, Lorain, OH Keep It Made In America Town Hall Meeting,

As you drive from town to town in Michigan and Ohio you see one after another a ring of the “big box” stores and national chain stores around each city. You also see the “brownfields” of rusted-out, closed factories, empty, falling-down buildings. Then you go to the downtown and you see boarded up houses, empty storefronts, deteriorating and deteriorated communities, idle people standing on corners. As you drive into these towns you can just see what is happening in a nutshell.
… Here are some pictures from the inner Lorain area but you see it all around: (click for large)
P1000784P1000802 P1000791P1000795P1000789P1000787

The Cost To Sovereignty
Our trade treaties prevent us from governing our own country with the laws We, the People want to pass, even when we can get them passed around the money of the corporate gatekeepers.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) says says we cannot require Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL)
WTO rules against U.S. COOL program

A World Trade Organization panel has issued a preliminary ruling on the case that Canada and Mexico filed against the U.S. country-of-origin-labeling law, charging that the mandatory rule violates WTO trade standards.
Specifically, the WTO ruling upholds that requirements tied to U.S. mandatory COOL violate provisions of WTO’s agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade or TBT. The WTO panel also ruled that the mandatory COOL requirements to not meet the United States’ stated objective that the labeling law informs and helps U.S. consumers make purchasing decisions regarding the origin of meat, produce and other products covered by the labeling law.

Just over a week ago the WTO ruled that we can’t even make companies tell consumers whether tuna they buy is “dolphin-safe.” David Sirota writes about this in Salon, When “free” trade trumps U.S. law

… so-called free trade agreements (i.e., NAFTA, bilateral NAFTA replicas, the WTO regime, etc.) are free only of protections for human beings — that is, free of provisions that preserve, say, labor rights, human rights and the environment. But those deals’ “hundreds of pages” are chock-full of protectionist provisions for multinational companies — provisions that, for example, allow foreign firms to sue governments for lost profits and empower international panels to unilaterally override a nation’s domestic laws if those laws reduce corporate revenues.

According to Public Citizen’s Eyes On Trade,

For the second time in a week, reports have surfaced about the WTO clobbering a U.S. consumer labeling policy. Last week, the U.S. voluntary dolphin-safe tuna label was deemed a WTO violation. This week, Reuters is reporting that the WTO has ruled that U.S. beef labels are a WTO no-no.
Corporate meatpackers are rejoicing…
. . . Consumers, ranchers, farmers and legislators worked hard to pass the labeling rules after seeing ground beef horror stories in Schlosser’s movie and book Fast Food Nation.
Heck, even free marketeers will be upset with the WTO ruling, since labeling transparency allows the consumer to make the free choice as to what kind of product they want to buy without the government dictating the outcome.
[. . . ] Unlike the U.S. Constitution and legal system, the WTO puts maximization of trade volumes first – ahead of consumer safety or the environment. As if corporations needed any more incentive to destroy local food production.

The Cost To Democracy
People watch these trade agreements take away our jobs and lower our standard of living. The see China cheating, taking everything and know that they can’t buy things in stores that are made in the USA. People clearly see this smashing the middle class and don’t understand why our political leaders don’t step in to defend the country. They don’t understand why government is not addressing these things that are costing jobs, and then see government making even more trade deals when it is obvious that trade with China is costing us jobs.
People understand this is big-company corruption buying politicians and making economic change impossible. They watch the big corporations take over the government, telling the Congress and administration what to do while they are unable to do anything about it. They come to believe the game is rigged. The result of all of this is that many people feel powerless and tune out.
The frustration over this is being channeled into a belief that it is government and democracy that are responsible, and that government spending is why they have no money. This loss of faith is dangerous to our society and our political system.
To Fix The Economy And Budget , Fix Trade
We have to fix our trade relationships if we hope to fix our economy and out budget problems. Ian Fletcher explains, in Why the Budget Is the Wrong Thing to Fight About,

So… what is the solution? What do we have to fix?
The number one thing is trade. Free trade collapsed a very long time ago. What we have today is not free trade at all, it’s ruthlessly manipulated trade — manipulated by America’s big trading partners, starting with China but including many others. And we’re doing nothing to stop them.
America’s titanic ($497 billion last year) trade deficit is ripping the guts out of industry after industry, but we have no answer. And you can’t gut industry after industry and expect not to reduce your GDP.
If we didn’t have this horrendous trade deficit, we simply wouldn’t be fighting many of these budget battles. Why? because we’d have a larger GDP, so tax revenues would be higher. Spending on public benefits would be lower, and painlessly so, because fewer people would be poor and middle-class people would have more money to take care of themselves.

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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Why Move Jobs From Democracies To Thugocracies?

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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Boehner Trade Plan: Go Back To Disaster

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.
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) gave a speech yesterday describing his party’s positions on jobs & the economy going into the fall election. Summary: Our economic policies destroyed the country’s economy and millions of lives, but it made a few of my buddies really REALLY rich, so let’s do more of it.
I write about the specifics of Boehner’s call to return to disastrous trade policies below, but first I just have to say a few words about his economic ideas in general and how utterly wrong they are. In the speech Boehner said we have an “economy stalled by ‘stimulus’ spending.” But according to FOX News’ Wall Street Journal, yesterday the CBO reported that “the impact of the stimulus program estimated … the plan lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.7 percentage points and 1.8 percentage points.” In addition, the Washington Post reported, “The CBO said the act also increased the nation’s gross domestic product by between 1.7 percent and 4.5 percent in the second quarter, indicating that the stimulus may have been the primary source of growth in the U.S. economy.”
Boehner also said that “each dollar the government collects is taken directly out of the private sector.” This is the old “taxes take money out of the economy” argument, which is intended to trick people into thinking that the money just disappears instead of being used to pay for the schools, courts, agencies and infrastructure that enable businesses to thrive and drive the country’s prosperity. If you think that President Eisenhower’s spending on the Interstate Highway System “took money out of the economy” you really need to see someone about your problems and not take them out of the rest of us.
Taking direct shots at democracy, Boehner complained about “big government” — namely We, the People making decisions instead of a few wealthy corporate owners making decisions for us — and said, “As Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana, recently said, “You’d really be amazed at how much government you’d never miss.” Boehner really has a problem with this whole “We, the People” thing.
Boehner on Trade
Boehner wants to go back to the trade policies that brought us massive job losses and trade deficits. In the speech he called for “passing free-trade agreements” with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. He doesn’t mention what is IN these agreements, only calls for passing them. These trade agreements were negotiated by the Bush administration. Here are charts showing the Bush administration’s record:



This is bad enough, but these “free trade” agreements create a worldwide race to the bottom, allowing companies to bypass the protections that democracies fought to provide for their citizens, pitting exploited, low-wage workers against citizens in democracies, forcing wages and standards ever lower.
These “free trade” agreements need to be reviewed and reformed, so they protect wages, the environment., worker’s rights and small businesses around the world. We have a chance to lift each other up instead of push each other down. In February I wrote about Whirlpool closing a refrigerator plant in Evansville, moving the jobs to Mexico where workers are paid $70 a week. The problem is that Mexican Workers Paid $70/Week Can’t Buy Refrigerators! If they were paid decent wages, we could sell things we make to them, while they sell things they make to us. But if we follow Boehner’s trade ideas everyone just gets poorer and eventually the economy stops.
Oh, wait, we DID follow Boehner’s trade plans, and everyone DID get poorer, and the economy DID stop! But a few of his buddies got really REALLY rich. So he wants to do more of that.
This speech by Boehner is just more calling for a return to the policies of the past: we’ve been seeing the trade deficit soaring in the last few months, as the economy tries to go back to old economy. China is 96% of our trade deficit. Boehner sayting lets go back to the path we followed when we were borrowing $2 billion a day, it took away 2.8% growth in 1st quarter, sapping the recovery. This notion that Boehner calling for continuing course shows a perverse blindness to changes country has to make.
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When Conservatives Are Right…

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.
Pat Buchanan has a column today on manufacturing, The Disemboweling of America, that hits the nail on the head. In fact, if I fairly excerpt enough of the column and send you over to read it, my work here is done. For today.
Buchanan begins by outlining just how much our country has lost by allowing others, particularly China, to take over manufacturing.

Though Bush 41 and Bush 43 often disagreed, one issue did unite them both with Bill Clinton: protectionism.
Globalists all, they rejected any federal measure to protect America’s industrial base, economic independence or the wages of U.S. workers.
. . . From 2000 to 2009, industrial production declined here for the first time since the 1930s. Gross domestic product also fell, and we actually lost jobs.
In traded goods alone, we ran up $6.2 trillion in deficits — $3.8 trillion of that in manufactured goods.

And what are the implication of this loss of manufacturing?

. . . for every dollar we send abroad for oil or gas, we send $4.20 abroad for manufactured goods. Why is a dependency on the Persian Gulf for a fraction of the oil we consume more of a danger than a huge growing dependency on China for the necessities of our national life?
… How many know that every modern nation that rose to world power did so by sheltering and nurturing its manufacturing and industrial base…
. . . No nation rose to world power on free trade. …
Nations rise on economic nationalism; they descend on free trade.
[emphasis added]

Buchanan wrote an excellent, important column today and I encourage readers to click through and read the whole thing.
So, this “free trade” stuff has worked out for us about as well as the “free market” stuff worked out for the economy. Free market and deregulation ideology destroyed the economy. Free trade has destroyed our ability to earn money and recover from the destruction of the economy.
It is time to formulate a national industrial policy/economic strategy, impose tariffs as necessary to balance trade – especially in the case of Chinese currency manipulation – and set up taxes and penalties to stop companies from moving any more manufacturing out of the country.

National Association of Manufacturers Blasts … American Manufacturing?

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.
Last week Harold Meyerson wrote a great column in the Washington Post, Just One Word: Factories, promoting American manufacturing. Meyerson wrote,

“Since 1987, manufacturing as a share of our gross domestic product has declined 30 percent. Once the world’s leading net exporter, we have become the world’s leading net importer. In 2007, we exported $1.2 trillion worth of goods and services but imported $1.8 trillion. If there were a debtor’s prison for nations, we’d all be in the clink.
[. . .] What makes the decline of American manufacturing particularly galling is that we’re not falling behind because we’re inefficient: American factories are among the most productive on the planet, as McCormack notes. But alone among the world’s industrial powers, we have left the task of enticing manufacturers not to the federal government but to state and local governments, which try to attract factories and research facilities with tax abatements and public investments that are dwarfed by the efforts of national governments in other lands. …
It’s not just that the United States uniquely lacks an industrial policy. It’s that the United States uniquely has an anti-industrial policy.”

This sounds good to me. If we are going to restore American economic power we need to promote American manufacturing.
So who comes out to blast Meyerson for his column promoting American manufacturing? Was it the European Manufacturers Association? Was it the China Manufacturers Association? Was it the Korean Manufactures Association? No, it was America’s own National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). Yes, the American NAM, not the European, Chinese, Japanese or Korean NAM, but the American NAM. They say American manufacturing is in fine shape and doesn’t need any help from the government to keep it strong.
Why is the NAM blasting Meyerson for writing a column promoting American manufacturing? A clue might be the source of the anti-American-manufacturing information they use. They quote Daniel J. Ikenson of the Cato Institute. Cato is an anti-government “libertarian” think tank that supports “free trade” and is against any kind of regulation of business, including any restrictions on imports. This could be because Cato receives a great deal of financial support from non-manufacturing interests including commodities and securities traders, tobacco companies, communications companies, software companies and oil companies. They also receive support from non-American manufacturing interests, including the Korea International Trade Association.
What I want to know is: Why is America’s National Association of Manufacturers echoing the Cato Institute’s views against American manufacturing? Has this organization lost its way? Does the NAM membership know about this?

Economists and Trade

Science describes what actually happens. Economists say, “If only people would do so-and-so, such-and-such would happen.”
If only trade were free. If only all countries would watch out for the interests of others instead of their own… If only the really rich would share the wealth…
Economist’s View: You Economists Don’t Get It, Do You?

So-Called “Free Trade” Isn’t Trade At All

If we have “free trade” with partners in a “free market” why do we have a massive trade deficit? If it really was a “free market” wouldn’t our trade “partners” use the dollars we give them when we buy things from them to buy things from us?
The idea of “free trade” is that things are supposed to balance out. We buy things made there, at a cost of jobs for people who had been making things here. But the whole idea is that they get dollars from that exchange, and then can buy things made here, bringing different jobs to the people who are not longer making the things made in China. That’s why it’s called TRADE — we TRADE things made there for things made here.
But that is not what is happening. We are not TRADING. We buy goods manufactured in China. China accumulates dollars. But those dollars are not buying things made here. If they were, there would not be a trade deficit with China. So it is not balanced. And there is more than a trade deficit, there is a huge job deficit. The only thing we are TRADING is our jobs for their things. And we are borrowing the money to do that.
But it’s worse than that. There is also depreciation of our manufacturing infrastructure. I mean investment in new manufacturing is occurring in China and not here. So not only are we sending jobs to China, we are sending our ability to make things away to China as well. We couldn’t just start making things now because we have closed our factories, not bought the latest equipment, etc. We would have to invest in new, modern equipment and train workers in new techniques.
Free trade requires that both trade partners play the same game following the same rules. That is obviously not what is happening today. We are losing our jobs, our pensions, our health insurance , wages are dropping, those with jobs are working longer hours and taking fewer vacations. And we are borrowing massive amounts of money to accomplish that. We have been sold out – literally.

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.