Free trade isn’t free. It has cost Americans their jobs. It has cost the middle class its standard of living, and it has cost our children their economic security.
Free Trade agreements have destroyed the American economy and sent the middle class into a death spiral toward poverty, but no one seems to know how we can we build the economy back up again.
If America is going to remain a great country, we have to find a way to rebuild our manufacturing base and bring the jobs home again.
According to a recent Associated Press report, in 2012 the richest 1% of Americans earned more than 19 % of the country's household income.
This means the gap between the wealthiest 1% of Americans and the rest of America is the widest it's been since 1928, the year before the stock market crashed and sent us into the Great Depression.
That is a bad sign.
Just as troubling is the fact that in 2012, the richest 10 % of Americans took home 48.2 % of America’s total earnings. That is a record.
How did we get into this mess, and how do we get out of it?
Twenty consecutive years of incredibly bad leadership in the White House destroyed the entire economic framework that it took Americans 225 years to build.
Reagan pushed for the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which he signed in 1988.
President George H. W. Bush was NAFTA's original sponsor, signing the deal on December 17, 1992.
Clinton made NAFTA the law of the land by signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which eliminated nearly every trade barrier between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, on December 8, 1993.
Reagan, Bush 1, and Clinton all bought into Adam Smith’s bonehead idea, published in The Wealth of Nations (1776), that the fewer impediments to trade there are, the richer everyone would become.
Unfortunately, what Smith didn’t foresee was that richest people would scoop up all the wealth generated by free trade and leave the middle class nothing but crumbs and the working class nothing but unemployment and poverty.
How could he? Adam Smith lived in the England of George III, who didn’t even understand that colonies were a bad idea. While Adam Smith was writing The Wealth of Nations, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston were writing the Declaration of Independence.
It is no wonder that Adam Smith totally missed the point.
Smith thought that, “that universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of the people.” But the exact opposite has happened.
As a result of the free trade agreements pushed by Reagan, Bush 1, and Bill Clinton, manufacturing jobs have almost disappeared in the United States. They have all migrated from America to China and Third World countries, where workers are paid diddly-squat and toil in horrendous conditions.
But prices have not gone down.
Duh! What Adam Smith missed (and what Reagan, Bush 1 and Clinton missed) is that the wealthy would artificially inflate prices rather than pass the savings generated by free trade on to ordinary people.
What’s even worse is that the free trade agreements have destroyed the more than 100 years of hard work and legislation to promote worker safety.
History repeats itself.
What experience and history teach is this – that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Philosophy of History (1837)
On Saturday afternoon, March 25, 1911 a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory located at 23-29 Washington Place, a ten-story building in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory occupied the top two floors of the building and in less than 20 minutes, 146 garment workers, mostly women, died – some were burned to death; others leaped to their deaths from windows on the 9th and 10th floors, more 100 feet above the street.
That fire, and those deaths, changed working conditions in America for a hundred years. Then came the free trade agreements, signed by Republicans and Democrats alike, and all those protections vanished, because American laws don’t apply in China and in Third-World countries.
In November 2012, 112 garment workers, mostly women, died after a fire tore through a 9-storey garment factory in Bangladesh, forcing many workers to jump from high windows to escape the smoke and flames.
It was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory disaster all over again, 101 years later.
The clothing factory in Bangladesh, had three exits, all of them on the ground floor, but since the fire started on the ground floor, workers could not come downstairs to escape. Those who couldn’t jump to safety died from smoke inhalation or suffocation.
The factory made clothes for international brands sold in Europe and the USA.
So tell me again - why is free trade a good idea, and how do we undo the colossal mess created by Republicans and Democrats alike?
It used to be that you could look at a piece of clothing, and if you saw the ILGWU label on it you knew that it was a good piece of clothing made by hard working people in good working conditions.
What do you know now, when you look at the label and see the clothing is made in Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan, or even Vietnam?
You know that the clothing was made in a sweat shop factory, where working conditions were horrible, and the people who made the garment work for pennies a day and struggle to feed their families, while the fat cat executives of the clothing retailers in the good old USA raked in obscene profits.
It’s time to kill the free trade agreements and start rebuilding America’s clothing industry.
All we need is a genius to tell us how to do it, and a leader with the courage enough to do what needs to be done to ensure a descent future for our children.