'Repeat After Us: Free Trade Is Great! '

Carl Remick carlremick at hotmail.com
Wed May 2 16:05:31 PDT 2001

[From NY Observer]

Repeat After Us: Free Trade Is Great!

by Terry Golway

Boy, it’s tough being a street protester these days. You make up a few placards denouncing free-trade agreements, show up at a big summit meeting, maybe say a bad word or two about politicians, and Thomas Friedman all but calls you a gangster on the Op-Ed Page of The New York Times. Well, maybe not a gangster, but a member of the “anti-globalization gang,” which, at the very least, makes you a gang member.

Maybe that’s not so bad an appellation after all. What’s the point of being in a gang if not to fight against … the other gang, that being the “pro-globalization gang” (the Sharks, perhaps?). It is unlikely, however, that the pro-globalists will ever be described with such contempt. For, according to the keepers of globalist dogma, the pro-globalists—the Sharks—wish only to spread prosperity throughout the world, to bring jobs to the jobless, wages to the poverty-stricken and laptops to the illiterate.

Like Mr. Friedman, I didn’t go to Quebec City for the Summit of the Americas; unlike Mr. Friedman, I didn’t go to Africa instead so I could talk with great authority about the benefits of free trade in that impoverished continent. No, I was too busy that weekend running errands and shuttling children in my middle-aged Honda or my nearly new Toyota—I am, you see, not entirely adverse to the pleasures of global capitalism, although, thanks to the superb work of my friend Phil Mushnick of the Post, no Nike swoosh will ever stain my footwear.

Removed though I was from recent events abroad, I was not surprised to learn, from The Wall Street Journal, that television coverage of the summit gave undue attention to the protesters (some of them admittedly repellent, clueless and even dangerous) and, from Mr. Friedman, that Africans want American jobs. Who doesn’t? Why, even Americans want American jobs, but as Americans are very expensive and make all kinds of retro demands (paid vacations, medical benefits, a smidgen of dignity)—well, we can have none of that in the great global marketplace, now can we?

Mr. Friedman has divided the anti-globalist gang into two factions: the well-intentioned but ill-informed, and the well-informed but ill-intentioned. I called John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s Magazine, author of The Selling of ‘Free Trade’ and charter member of the anti-globalist gang, to see which faction he belongs to. “Friedman would probably put me in a category all by myself: ill-informed and ill-intentioned,” he said with a laugh.

Mr. MacArthur has had the audacity to question not just Mr. Friedman, but the globalist orthodoxy that he polices with such enthusiasm. In his book, Mr. MacArthur shows a side of globalism that members of the other gang either ignore or explain away: He demonstrated, through the lives of actual American workers whose jobs were moved from Long Island City to Mexico, precisely how globalism is knocking out several rungs on the great American economic ladder. This kind of reporting breaks the establishment’s rules: When writing of globalization, one is expected either to cite generalities or to chronicle the lives of Third World workers delighted with their daily wage of 39 cents or so. One is not to record the devastation in working-class communities like Long Island City. That’s not fair play, you see.

I asked Mr. MacArthur why critics like himself and the protesters in Quebec inspire such contempt among establishment, pro-globalism commentators. “Most free traders in the press call themselves ‘social liberals,’” he said. “And they get angry because their consciences are getting pricked, because they feel accused of hypocrisy. It hits them where they live.”

Mr. MacArthur believes that free trade is to the early 21st-century what busing was to the 1970’s. “Back then, every liberal would say, ‘I’m for busing,’ but none of them had kids in public schools,” he said. “They weren’t affected by it, and they knew nobody who was. In the same way, they say they’re for free trade because, they say, it helps poor people in other countries. But they don’t know anybody here who’s affected by free trade. They don’t know anybody who’s getting screwed. And it’s the working class that’s losing jobs or working longer hours to make up for lower wages.”

Mr. MacArthur is an unabashed protectionist, but one needn’t be—one might even drive a Toyota with a clear conscience—to question the exploitation and economic injustices carried out in the name of globalism, to point out that globalism, in its rawest form, is not about spreading wealth, but driving down wages.

Establishment commentators are constantly amazed to find that labor unions would fight to keep good-paying jobs in America. Presumably, the Op-Ed elites would like the unions to act like other members of the commentating class and simply go along with the program.

It’s good for business, after all.



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