NAFTA was but one factor in a decades-long exodus of American jobs from our country.
Do you really think manufacturing was strong up to and until NAFTA?
There was also the effect of decades of disinvestment in American manufacturing, decades of union-busting, tax policies that undermined support for long-term industrial strength and domestic manufacturing, China’s entry into the W.T.O. and obtaining “Most Favored Nation” status, etc.
I worked summers in a steel factory in the Midwest starting in 1974 and through to 1979. The newest overhead press there was built in 1941, and it was not even made in the U.S.A., but in the former Soviet Union. It, and all the other presses there, pre-dated OSHA safety regulations, and worker injuries were commonplace.
And some of the nearby steel mills were originally pig iron mills from the 1800s that were converted as cheaply as possible. And by the early 1980s, most of those firms already had begun the process of subcontracting out their labor operations to the non-union South, or moving overseas.
The fact is, before NAFTA was even a glimmer in the eye of President Reagan — who spearheaded the initiative under the banner of the North American Union — the private sector was engaged in a policy of active disinvestment in these kinds of facilities, which hollowed out our industrial sector:
Leveraged buyouts of manufacturers created huge amounts of corporate debt which resulted in pressure from shareholders to downsize, shift priorities and budget allocations, or otherwise trim expenses in order to maximize revenues and boost stock prices;
Private equity firms and corporate raiders acquired industrial firms only to raid pension funds, spin-off or outsource profitable divisions, and sell off valuable real estate or other assets for short-term gains;
Tax laws were enacted to provide firms with incentives to shut down factories and outsource, write off “phantom” losses that existed only on paper, take advantage of accelerated depreciation schedules, etc.
As a native of the formerly industrialized Midwest that is now called the Rust Belt, I understand the concerns and misgivings that some harbor for international trade agreements — and I share some of them — but I do not share the abject pessimism of the detractors.
Given the strong pro-worker positions President Obama has championed and fought for, and considering his success in steering us out of the worst economic crisis of our lifetime, I await a draft of this international trade agreement with measured optimism.
As President Obama has said, we have an opportunity to write the rules for the 21st Century.
The entire global economy is in the doldrums, and much of the world is looking for American leadership. And, since our economy is on an upswing, with growth outpacing other advanced nations, and with much of the developed world experiencing declining growth rates at best or scrambling to avoid another recession, we have an opportunity — and the leverage — to execute an advantageous trade agreement, champion American interests, and uphold — and export — American values.