NAFTA’s Been Bad for US; What About Mexico?

Mark WeisbrotThe thing about free trade is that it makes markets more efficient. One country doesn’t have to depend upon itself for all of the things that it needs. This lowers costs all around and makes the world richer. In theory, I’m all for free trade. In practice, I’m against it. This is because as trade barriers have been taken down over the last four decades, the economic gains have not been shared; they have gone overwhelmingly to the already rich. This is what happened with NAFTA in the US: it did increase profits, but it didn’t help the American worker. But we hear a lot that it was at least good for Mexico.

There is a certain strain of liberalism that likes this idea very much. From their vantage point, the poor here in the US may have it bad, but they should shut up because the poor in Zimbabwe have it even worse. I discussed this in an article last year, Data Journalists Don’t Know Anything About the Poor Anywhere. The problem is that these journalists are usually in the top quintile of income in this country and so the poor everywhere are abstractions to them. So they are the kind of people who would argue that damage done to US workers would be acceptable for the sake of the even more poor people in Mexico.

Part of the problem here is that this whole globalization game isn’t much different in other countries than it is here. The greater trade might lead to more GDP, but its all captured by those at the top. But sadly, we don’t even have to make that argument. The truth is that since NAFTA, Mexico’s economy has done really poorly. Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) wrote two years ago, NAFTA: 20 Years of Regret for Mexico. And he summed up what the first two decades brought Mexico:

Didn’t Mexico at least benefit from the agreement? Well if we look at the past 20 years, it’s not a pretty picture. The most basic measure of economic progress, especially for a developing country like Mexico, is the growth of income (or GDP) per person. Out of 20 Latin American countries (South and Central America plus Mexico), Mexico ranks 18, with growth of less than 1% annually since 1994.

If you want to take a deep dive into the subject, check out the CEPR document, Did NAFTA Help Mexico? An Assessment After 20 Years (PDF).

Weisbrot’s colleague at CEPR, Dean Baker, has been documenting the way that The Washington Post consistently exaggerates how well the Mexican economy has done. This is entirely typical of mainstream US news coverage. And it is in direct contrast to its coverage of official US government enemies like Venezuela, where nothing that they do will ever be seen as good.

The truth of the matter is that trade deals like NAFTA are created by the rich for the benefit of the rich. And even economists who once thought they were wonderful (for theoretical reasons), are now backing away. As Weisbrot noted, “When economists who have promoted NAFTA from the beginning are called upon to defend the agreement, the best that they can offer is that it increased trade.” But no one cares about trade as a goal; it is a means to a goal: shared prosperity. And Mexico has not shared in that prosperity.

Indian Rope Trick Still Obsessing People

Thurston - Indian Rope TrickBack when I first started this blog, I wrote two articles about the Indian Rope Trick. The first, Indian Rope Trick Part I, was about Peter Lamont’s excellent book, The Rise of the Indian Rope Trick. It was about how the trick did not actually exist in the form that was reported: magician outside causes a rope to rise, their assistant climbs up it, and disappears as the rope falls back to the ground. The effect was just made up by a lazy newspaper reporter in 1890. The newspaper later printed a retraction, but it was too late: the fake trick fascinated the world.

The second article, Indian Rope Trick Part II, was about an actual trick that was performed by Indian magicians hundreds of years ago. In it, a chain is made to rise after which a pig and other animals scurry up it and disappear. The basis of that article is my long experience of hearing and reading people’s descriptions of magic tricks and how they diverge from what they actually saw. In this particular case, I suspect that some kind of shadowbox effect was used, making the audience think the animal was climbing the change, when it had already been dropped through a trap door.

Since 1890, there have been many magicians who have performed the Indian Rope Trick. In particular, there was Howard Thurston, whose poster you can see above. But I’ve never seen it. And it is hard to talk about exactly how it is done, because there are a number of different ways. I’ve long thought that a hydraulic system would work. But then I saw a guy performing the trick in some Penn & Teller show. The trick here is painfully obvious:

The enormous diameter of the rope and its stuttering climb both point to it being hollow with a steel rod pushing it up from an underground chamber. Once it reaches its full height, the underground assistant secures it so the boy can climb up. Afterward, the rod is released, falling back down into the chamber. Since the hollow rope is stiff, it would fall slower in a natural way. No big surprise there.

What’s more interesting is the following video. When you first watch it, it is hard not to be impressed. But watch it a couple of more times and you will see that it is a hoax:

Notice how the rope rises at 0:16 mark. Does that seem odd? It should! It is being run backwards: we see a rope falling. But it is worse than that. We see the magician in a medium show as he throws a rope in the air. It cuts to the crowd. And then it cuts to a long shot of the reverse footage. This is, rather clearly, completely staged. That includes the audience. But how can I say that?

At 0:33 in the video, as the boy is climbing the rope, you can see a metal rod that is behind it. The rope has simply been attached to the rod in such a way that the camera is fooled. From any other angle, it would clear that there is just an bar that the boy is climbing. Although the film is made to look like documentary footage, it is as staged as any Meg Ryan romantic comedy.

I do understand people’s fascination with the Indian Rope Trick. Just the same, I much prefer little things like Daryl’s Rope Routine, which is actually quite simple, but brilliantly done in his own nerdy way: