August 28, 2023
The talking head class has been spending a great deal of time debating the Trans Pacific trade agreement. “Free trade” has been the only intellectually acceptable position for many years in Western democracies, and anyone questioning it is quickly dismissed as an ignorant protectionist or uninformed isolationist. Lots of statistics get thrown around but the “debate” seldom changes opinions. What is missing, in my opinion, is any effort at fact-checking. Each treaty has passed with high expectations of new market access, job growth, and an increased standard of living for both parties. If the proponents have the technology to make these projections, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask them to evaluate the results at specific intervals after the agreements go into effect. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) promised many good things for the United States, Canada, and Mexico. If local TV news reports are any measure of the actual results, there are not many “happy campers” north of the Rio Grande; I can’t recall seeing one story on jobs being added to a domestic factory because of NAFTA. Another area that could benefit from fact-checking is the off-shoring/re-shoring phenomenon. Companies that went off-shore in search of lower costs are reported to be bringing orders back to the original suppliers in response to falling quality, rising prices, slipping delivery dates, and lack of respect for proprietary rights. Is this an accurate reflection of the situation or wishful thinking on the part of American manufacturers? Without first-hand accounts, no matter how embarrassing, we don’t know. It is reminiscent of the situation with publically funded sports complexes. When the deals are negotiated, huge numbers for job growth and economic impact are tossed around. Once the dust settles, little is mentioned about actual results. A popular definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, yet expecting different results. Are we being crazy to continue as “free traders” when the results are not publicized?