Are Hillary And Barack Serious About Breaking NAFTA?

I'd like to think the rhetoric about NAFTA being spouted by the two Democratic contenders for the presidential nomination is nothing more than campaign fluff, something to be ignored or repudiated once one of them attains the office they are so desperately seeking.

How could it be that either one, Clinton or Obama, actually believe that free trade has been a bad thing? Or are they pandering to the crowds in Ohio, a state that'd had more than its share of lost manufacturing jobs? Never mind that more manufacturing jobs have been created in Ohio than have been lost, mostly due to trade with Canada and Mexico. Both Clinton and Obama have been pointing the finger at Mexico, as if it's Mexico's fault for any perceived problems with NAFTA. But the problem lies within the Democratic Party, members of which have shown again and again over the decades they have no understanding of economics.

The assault on NAFTA is a signal that the Democratic Party thinks the U.S. should abandon its leadership role in pushing for modern, democratic capitalism in Latin America. But that's only the half of it. When Mrs. Clinton says she wants "core" labor standards shoved into the pact, it is code language for forcing on the U.S., by treaty, what the U.N.'s International Labor Organization calls "core principles." The U.S. has signed only two of the ILO's eight conventions precisely because the others would lead to labor-market rigidity à la Argentina. Big Labor bosses would love that but what about the rest of us? Probably not so much.

Canada got a mention Tuesday. But the whipping boy was Mexico, which stands accused of attracting firms by allowing worker exploitation. If an American lost a job in the past decade, the charge goes, it's because in Mexico business has no labor obligations. This claim is not only untrue, it is the opposite of reality. Mexico is home to militant, high-powered unions and the most burdensome labor regulation in North America.

Mexico suffered the tragedy of repressive corporatism throughout most of the 20th century. A one-party system under the Institutional Revolutionary Party -- PRI -- ruled for more than 70 years, making sure there was no economic or political competition. But in the late 1980s and early 1990s a young, educated class of technocrats began to break the chains of protectionism, isolation and monopoly. NAFTA, signed and ratified in 1993, was central to this. Its benefits include greater access to capital and trade for Mexico and also an increase in information flows, which are the source of innovation and progress in any country.

It seems Clinton and Obama want the US to fall under the sway of the same kind of high powered union organizations and ever more restrictive business regulations. Do they really want to destroy America's economy in such a fashion? To listen to them you'd think so. All we can do is hope that their noise is nothing more than campaign rhetoric, otherwise we could be in very deep trouble.

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