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Sound Off | Free trade: Why don’t we call a spade a spade?

January 1, 2008

8 Min Read
Sound Off | Free trade: Why don’t we call a spade a spade?

We should rename “free trade.” It isn't free and it isn't fair. Since it's trade that's regulated in favor of multinational special interest groups, why don't we call it what it is? How about “rigged market trade” or “turn your back on your fellow countrymen trade” or “throw American workers out on the street trade”?

Why are we so afraid to call a spade a spade? There are 36,000 fewer U.S. factories than there were eight years ago. One in five manufacturing jobs has been lost, nationally, in the last 10 years—and counting.

If we don't stem the tide of multinationalism through trade law reform, then of about 140 million U.S. jobs, between 42 million and 56 million of them could be moved offshore within 20 years—all 14 million current jobs in manufacturing and 28 million jobs in the service sector. We'll be left without any manufacturing, which is at the core of our country's national security.

Members of our group, the TMTA (Tooling, Manufacturing & Technologies Assn.), wonder if things will change in time. We know that most of our woes emanate from disastrous trade laws that have been written in Washington DC. We wonder if elected officials even care. It's clear that these officials trail their constituents on the critical issues of trade reform. What it boils down to is that government, at large, is unresponsive to what the electorate wants. How long can this go on?

When the concept of “free trade” was thought up, did the corporate-controlled multinationalists anticipate that America would cease to be a land of broadly shared prosperity? Did they know that the decimation of manufacturing was going to happen and decide to continue on this course anyway? The idea that our economy could regress to a pre-New Deal model where the rich claim all the wealth the nation creates while everyone else just gets by is stunning. America wasn't supposed to be the land of winner-take-all.

What became of social morality?

It's been thrown out the window. The philosophy of corporate-controlled multinationalism has sold the middle class into a world where money is God and where people are viewed as a commodity to be used for profit. Greed is now virtue. People like you and me have become pawns in a money machine. The middle class is being destroyed and a new billionaire class is rapidly emerging.

Multinationalists who drive the global economy have distanced themselves from the social contract, no longer relying on secure employment and rising standards of living to bolster consumer spending. Here's a passage from Collapse: How Societies Choose to Succeed or Fail by Jared Diamond, a social anthropologist. He describes an American society in which “corporate elites cocoon themselves in gated communities guarded by private security, fly in corporate aircraft, depend on golden parachutes and private pensions, and send their children to prohibitively expensive private schools. Gradually these corporate elites lose their motivation to support the police force, the municipal water supply, Social Security, and public schools. Any society contains a built-in blueprint for failure if corporate elites insulate themselves from the consequences of their own actions.”

We have to ask ourselves the question, even in our capitalistic society, “How much is too much?”

A nonpartisan emergency

Some might think this stance leans a little to the left. It doesn't. Increasingly, trade policy and the effects of multinationalism are not partisan issues. According to a recent Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, by a nearly two-to-one margin, Republican voters believe that free trade is bad for the U.S. economy, a shift in opinion that mirrors Democrat views and suggests new trade deals could face high hurdles under the next administration.

We desperately need trade reform relief out of Washington DC and we need it to come from both sides of the aisle. Trade laws that benefit multinational companies have been enacted by representatives who we hire, pay, and expect to represent us, but they're destroying small manufacturers. Our representatives and legislators, collectively, have been responsible for trade policy that has resulted in a cave-in of the manufacturing industry. Where are these people we elected to look out for our interests, to be our legislative champions?

They're in Washington, all right. But a lot of the time they're not doing what they're supposed to be doing on our behalf. Yet we continue to re-elect them, and we never call them on it-literally. A recent Gallup poll asked Americans if they've ever contacted their elected representatives. Eight out of 10 said that they never had. And yet, it's never been easier.

Just visit www.house.gov or www.senate.gov, type in your zip code, and you're automatically directed to your representative. A window pops up so you can type a message to them. It takes less than 2 minutes, on average. Yet people don't do it. If people whose lives are affected by manufacturing, health care, or other social issues wrote their legislators and told them that they wanted trade reform or healthcare reform, and would be watching to see how they voted, the results would be staggeringly effective.

Who can make the game fair?

At the end of the day, there's only one way that there's going to be any relief for all of us in manufacturing and that's through Washington DC. Most of manufacturing's problems—your problems and mine—are a result of bad trade laws.

We need fair trade reform and we need it now. We need to force our elected officials to redo trade policies from the ground up. And the first thing that should happen is a freeze on all new trade agreements, especially by the current administration, until major pro-domestic producer and worker trade strategies are put in place. It's awfully clear that we're not going to get any help from this White House—and that's a real shame.

So, it falls to another branch of government. Congress must create a national trade commission; pass currency manipulation legislation; address the unfair advantage caused by the rebate of VAT taxes by passing a border equalization tax; enact countervailing duty laws; and pass laws that standardize Rules of Origin and that address infrastructure imbalances such as regulatory and enforcement standards.

What will make Congress act?

The desperate state of manufacturing can be fixed in this country if we all decide to become involved and immersed in the problem, if we educate ourselves about trade reform laws and policies that affect us, if we let our elected representatives know what we want them to do on our behalf, and if we let them know we're keeping an eye on them to see how they vote on trade issues.

Right now we have a real opportunity. Many politicians are up for election or re-election this year. They usually become sensitive to the wants and needs of their constituents right before an election. Our group, the TMTA, has aligned itself with other organizations like the Organization for Competitive Markets and the Coalition for a Prosperous America, like-minded groups that are actually holding politicians' feet to the fire relative to trade reform issues.

In the last election cycle held two years ago, 15 politicians who were manufacturing-unfriendly and electorally vulnerable were targeted for defeat. The “kill rate” was 15 out of 15. We intend to follow that model in this election cycle. Politicians who have been in the pockets of the corporate-controlled multinationals are on notice. We are going to do what we can to defeat them for the sake of manufacturing.

Ultimately, we're optimistic about the future of manufacturing. I'm reminded of the observation that the United States can always be counted on to do the right thing . . . once all other possibilities have been exhausted.

Author Brian Sullivan ([email protected]) is director of sales, marketing, and communications for the Tooling, Manufacturing & Technologies Assn. (www.thetmta.com). Long established as a tool and die association in Michigan, TMTA broadened its scope and went national in January 2007. It has grown from 21,000 to 50,500 members in 22 states by providing advocacy at the federal level for small manufacturers.

Iacocca's rant

“Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening? Where is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind. The most famous business leaders aren't the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. And, don't tell me it's all the fault of right wing Republicans or liberal Democrats. That's an intellectually lazy argument and it's part of the reason that we're in this stew. We're not just a nation of factions. We're a people and we rise and fall together. I have news for the gang in Congress. We didn't elect you to sit on your butts and do nothing and remain silent while our country is being hijacked and our greatness is being replaced with mediocrity. What is everybody so afraid of? Why don't you guys in Congress show some spine for a change?”—Lee Iacocca, Where Have all the Leaders Gone?

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