Free Trade: From Promise to Scam

Matt Taibbi - Free TradeClinton promised that free-trade agreements would emphasize new environmental standards, would expand the rights of workers in signatory countries, that we would not trade with countries that employed subsidies or tariffs against us, and that displaced domestic workers would eventually see gains after being retrained and redeployed for new jobs that would eventually appear to replace the lost ones.

“To the men and women of our country who were afraid of these changes,” Clinton said, “the gains from this agreement will be your gains, too.”
It was never articulated this way, exactly, but the basic promise of free trade was that the American middle class would experience temporary losses that over time would be balanced out by increased growth worldwide.

It was trickle-down economics, only repackaged with an international spin: After a long trip around the world, the wealth eventually gets back to you.

Twenty-three years later, we see how all of this has turned out. There have been some improvements in the economic condition of foreign workers.
But we never excluded politically oppressive regimes from free-trade deals, never made sure that trade partners weren’t also massive human rights violators, never seriously worried about environmental enforcement. Mostly, we just made cheap, un-free foreign labor available to Western manufacturers.

Even a onetime die-hard NAFTA cheerleader like staunch Clinton supporter Paul Krugman, who once compared free trade’s critics to the anti-evolutionist followers of William Jennings Bryan at the Scopes Monkey Trial, now admits that the case for “ever-freer” trade is a “scam”…

—Matt Taibbi
A Republican Workers’ Party?

Trespass Has Many Delightful Meanings

Trespass: Park closed from Sunset to Sunrise. Violators will be trespassed.The excellent freelance writer Jon Penland took this picture on his travels around the county, and posted it on Facebook. When I first saw it I was amused. The sign reads, “Park closed from Sunset to Sunrise. Violators will be trespassed.” But I didn’t hate the sign. It’s actually charming. And I like that all the words are spelled correctly. It makes me think of the spell check poem: they did manage to get the words right. But why capitalize “sunset” and “sunrise”? I assume because they just didn’t know any better.

I was going to razz Jon about his pedantry. But I don’t know him that well, and he wouldn’t understand that I would actually be razzing myself. I once found a flier from a local transit system with many errors in it. So I marked it up and mailed it back to them. But it was thinking back on that act that I realized that I was wrong. The truth was that the flier, while wrong, was perfectly clear. And it came from a transit system, not a publisher. So what’s the big deal? Ever since, I’ve tried to be more understanding.

Is Trespass Wrong In This Context?

It looks like the writer meant “arrest” or “prosecute” where they wrote “trespass.” However, the use of “trespass” in this way is not actually wrong. Look at the definitions of the word. One is “to do something that hurts or offends someone.” Certainly, being arrested would fall within this definition.

But even more, another definition of trespass is “the legal action for injuries resulting from trespass.” I wasn’t aware of that definition, but maybe the writer of the sign was. Maybe the big joke is on all of us and the sign, while unusual, is precise. I doubt it, but it does take some of the fun out of laughing at the sign.

Consider also how one of the most famous passages from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:12) is often translated, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Now the sign is starting to seem more reasonable. And in this context, it has an almost Quentin Tarantino feel to it: the cops aren’t just gonna arrest you; they’re gonna trespass your ass. Say it like Samuel L Jackson! It’s fun: trespass your ass!

Odd Language Is Edifying

I don’t want to take away anyone’s fun. It’s nice to laugh at odd signs. But we can also learn from them. We can delight in their idiosyncrasies. It reminds me of this great scene from A Late Quartet. In it, Christopher Walken’s character tells a story about Pablo Casals (which is apparently true) where he praises a young musician who performs poorly because of a few brief moments of delight and transcendence.

I don’t hold it against anyone who laughed at this sign. It is odd. It is almost certainly the result of ignorance. And I laughed at it myself. But if we look for the good in it, it’s actually lovely. Right or wrong, it offers us a new way of looking at the language.

And to take us back to the Sermon on the Mount, I have no trouble forgiving the trespass of that sign (if it be a trespass). I have trespassed so much worse in my own life!