When it’s your job to promote free trade, you are guaranteed to get a steady flow of emails telling you why you are wrong. A certain share will take the form, “My job was shipped to China. Don’t tell ME about the benefits of free trade.” Here is an email in that category that I received earlier this month from a person who describes himself as an unemployed economics student, with my response afterwards. So far the “student” has yet to reply.
I read several of your opinions on free trade on the Cato institute website, and I must disagree with your rationale on Free Trade’s advantages for main street America.
In theory NAFTA, CAFTA, and less restrictive trade with China sounds like it benefits everyone, in practice it certainly does not. I must point out that most of these countries are not free countries. Simply ask an undocumented mexican, of which we have no shortage, and all will tell you that it is better to be illegal here in the U.S. than to work for
a maquilladora in Mexico, they will also tell you that Mexico is not really a free country, so it safe to say that NAFTA has not worked out very well for anyone except American retailers. Lower prices at Wal-Mart don’t help me when I am unemployed. I know because since 2001, I have been laid off 3 times, 2 jobs went to Mexico and 1 to China. Because I have lost jobs to foreign competition, I have taken several economics classes under the TRA act, the more I learn about free trade agreements the more convinced I am that they are destructive to the United States. They have clearly led to a weaker America, economically, socially, and militarily. So, please don’t try to sell free trade as the greatest thing since pockets on blue jeans, because it certainly is not.
Unemployed Economics Student
My response the next day:
Thanks for your email. I’m sorry you’ve had such a difficult time with employment during the past decade.
Nobody I know who advocates the freedom to trade would argue that everybody benefits all the time. People do lose their jobs because of trade. People also lose their jobs because of technological change. I used to work in the newspaper business, where a quarter of the newsroom jobs have disappeared in the past decade largely because of the Internet. Jobs have been lost at bookstores because of Amazon.com and e-readers, and at Kodak because of digital cameras. Yet most people would agree that technology is a good thing and that it leaves us better off as a society and an economy even if not every individual is better off. We should think the same about trade.
Lower prices at Wal-Mart do help even when you’re unemployed, perhaps more so. The people who benefit the most from the lower prices from trade are people on lower incomes. The number of Americans who benefit every day from those lower prices is far greater than the number of Americans displaced by trade.
I would be careful not to unfairly blame free trade agreements for problems that are caused by the misdeeds of our politicians right here in Washington, such as overspending, overregulation, soaring debt, mismanaged monetary policy, promotion of subprime loans, and so on. You could find Americans in your same spot 30 years ago before our government had signed a single free trade agreement.
Your email gave me something to think about. I hope this email gives you the same opportunity.