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The NAFTA shovel.

There's an old Texas saying that when you find you've dug yourself into a hole, the first thing to do is quit digging," says the irrepressible Jim Hightower. "That's what NAFTA is - a great big shovel digging us deeper into that hole."

Hightower is right on the money. NAFTA, even with Bill Clinton's recently concluded side agreements, is ill-advised and ill-conceived.

Clinton favors NAFTA because he is beholden to giant U.S. multinationals, who will be the prime beneficiaries of the agreement. George Bush negotiated the treaty for his pals in the business community, and Clinton is keeping up the tradition. Surprise, surprise: They have the same pals.

Also, Clinton does not wish to alienate the Eastern media establishment, at whose table he supped on Martha's Vineyard. The New York Times and The Washington Post have grown hoarse claiming that NAFTA would be good for everybody - and suggesting that only the nuts and nativists who follow Ross Perot, or the hidebound officials of the AFL-CIO, would disagree.

But on purely economic grounds, NAFTA will not be good for most Americans, as Jeff Faux devastatingly documents in the July-August issue of Challenge, which calls itself "the magazine of economic affairs." After plowing through all the pro-NAFTA studies by the Clinton Administration and the business community, Faux finds that they tout only the most negligible benefits and mask the most obvious costs.

For workers, NAFTA supporters like to claim that it will bring many more jobs than it eliminates. "The evidence does not support this claim," Faux says. The U.S. International Trade Commission, he notes, "found that the highest estimate of a potential NAFTA contribution to employment in the United States was - are you ready? - eight one-hundredths of 1 per cent!" Many other credible studies have predicted a net loss of 500,000 jobs to one million jobs, Faux adds.

NAFTA supporters also like to claim that it will result in better jobs in the United States, with the less desirable, less well-paying jobs going to Mexico.

"Again, there is no evidence for this claim," Faux writes. "Historically, U.S. workers who lose jobs due to imports fall down the ladder, or off the ladder." Faux cites one study by a free-trade advocate that concludes that "the effect of NAFTA will be an average wage loss of $1,000 per worker for 70 per cent of the labor force."

The segment of the labor force most likely to suffer is the one that is already suffering. "The damage to incomes and jobs will be concentrated on those who are least able to adjust - workers in the bottom two-thirds of the family income distribution," Faux writes. "NAFTA will reduce especially employment in our troubled cities and areas of rural poverty."

The only remotely credible economic benefit from NAFTA would be a puny lowering of some prices for consumers. "If you accept all the assumptions of its supporters, you may get two-cents-a-day's worth of lower prices to the average consumer," Faux writes. "This is the fabled long-term benefit that we are told justifies the risks of unemployment, community dislocation, environmental degradation, increased social disruption in Mexico, and expanded immigration that will inevitably result."

To soften the opposition to NAFTA, Bill Clinton recently signed two side agreements - one on labor rights, the other on the environment. Neither one of these is adequate; they are cosmetic only, as David Moberg ably demonstrates in the September 6 edition of In These Times.

"The labor and environmental side agreements have been revealed to have no teeth," Moberg writes. "They barely have gums."

Bill Clinton is selling the American public a bill of goods with NAFTA. But the public seems to know better. "Even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over and being kicked," as Hightower puts it.

"We're being kicked."
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Title Annotation:North American Free Trade Agreement
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Words:635
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