Was NAFTA a Disaster? Close Enough!

Donald TrumpRecently, Donald Trump was on 60 Minutes. I watched parts of it and I agreed with a number of things he said. This was before his “tax reform” plan came out and he showed himself to be a really typical, boring Republican. But one of the things he talked about in the segment was NAFTA. He said, “It’s a disaster…” And Mark Thoma, decided to look into the question, Is Donald Trump Right to Call NAFTA a “Disaster”? As I’ve pointed out in the past, Thoma is no firebrand. He’s a careful, if liberal, economist. And so his conclusion is that it is complicated.

Fair enough. But the main claim that was made for NAFTA was that it was going to a boon for jobs. But what did we see? We saw the loss of “somewhere in the neighborhood of 350,000 to 700,000 jobs.” But to be fair, in a nation the size of ours, that isn’t a huge hit — between a quart and a half of a percent. But the point is that it was supposed to be a job creator. On the one thing that the deal sold as, NAFTA was indeed a disaster. It didn’t do what it was supposed to do.

The evidence for its impact on Mexico is not even great. Brad DeLong — who might be biased, since he worked on the deal — finds that it netted a million and a half jobs. Others claim less. And as Thoma pointed out, “But whatever the actual number, just like for the US, it’s also relatively small.” There was no economic boom in the region. And the reason for that is that China became a big deal so all those jobs that would have gone to Mexico went to China instead. That’s obviously bad for Mexico, but also bad for the US, because if the jobs had gone to Mexico, those workers would have bought a lot of stuff from America that the Chinese are not.

But I think that Thoma is being too kind. I don’t think that the point of NAFTA was ever to create jobs. It was designed to make it easier for rich people to screw over working people here in the United States. Well, that’s probably putting too negative a gloss on it. It was a way for the rich to enrich themselves even more. In other words, it was yet another government program designed to help out the people who least needed helping. The fact that those people saw greater profits by going to China hardly changes the dynamic.

And now we have the TPP. It’s a treaty that isn’t even about breaking down trade barriers. Most of the signatories already have low tariffs. The big thing in the agreement is intellectual property law, and these will put unheard of tariffs — hundreds and thousands of percent — on covered items. Is this going grow the economy? Is this going to create new jobs? One thing that NAFTA clearly did do was increase inequality. TPP will surely do the same thing. It will make the poor poorer. It will make the rich richer. But in the end, no in power will care, because they know they can always hire another lackey like Obama to push through the next trade deal.

NAFTA might not have been a disaster in a general sense. But it wasn’t a good thing. And we have responded to that by passing trade deal after trade deal. We don’t live in a democracy, my friends.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

9 thoughts on “Was NAFTA a Disaster? Close Enough!

  1. I remember the unions being against NAFTA but I was 12 when it passed and I barely paid attention to the news.

    If Sanders surprises all of us and gets the nomination, then I could say the tide is turning against those in power but the problem is that too many people are like 12 year old me, they do not pay attention to the news. They read websites but it is like Buzzfeed (who does do some surprising journalism but nothing that upsets the apple cart) or Cracked.

    Unless the Sanders campaign gives rise to a bunch of candidates, unlike the Occupy Movement, things are only going to slowly change and only in states like California.

    • But I can hardly blame them. This is part of the problem with our system and the way it makes voting difficult. Young people — Happy people! — have busy lives. That leaves the old and miserable to vote. But it filters for a particular kind of miserable — not the liberal kind.

      • I had a busy life once. It was awful.

        Voting is a low reward, high effort thing. And of course the easier you make it the less likely the Republicans will win. Which leads directly to them pulling the crap they have been pulling. What is amazing to me is that Chief Justice Roberts who authored that insanely stupid Shelby County v Holder somehow believes that you do not have to put restrictions on people because they will always do the right thing despite the mountains of evidence Congress gathered to show he is wrong. Then again, he is a bit of a libertarian and it is something he would assume people would do as he thinks it is irrational for local politicians to prohibit blacks from voting.

        So the miserable, bored and cranky will vote and it is made easy for them because they are also rich, white and vote correctly.

        • Well Roberts is a turd. But at least if we could ever get Congress back, that ruling’s something we could step around; we could, for example, apply the Voting Rights act to every state, not ones with the worst history. That would probably pass Court muster. Of course, not if a Repub picks the next four Court members; then we’re royally screwed,

          And “Citizens United” is probably going to require a constitutional amendment to overturn, meaning we’re stuck with for a good (bad) while longer.

        • I only disagree that Roberts actually thinks that. It’s just convenient and it leads to empowering his partisan interests.

          • Fairly sure you are right-or he tells himself this because otherwise he has to admit he is partisan and it appears he is like a lot of people who thinks he is above politics.

            • Yeah, I think that’s what’s behind his claims to judicial restraint on issues he doesn’t care about, like Obamacare.

              • I was surprised he found the ACA constitutional to be honest. But then he is not that much of a boat rocker and he likes to be subtle in his reactionary politics.

                • Yeah, I think it is calculated. He understands that if the Court went all in on movement conservatism, it would lose all credibility and perhaps create a crisis. What he really cares about is flooding our politics with money and depriving liberal voters of access. So he’s more careful with other things. Even his argument against same sex marriage was pretty muted.

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