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November 17, 2010

"Free Trade" By Any Other Name...

-- by Dave Johnson

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.

"Free trade" by any other name ... is still just a scam to pit workers against each other and evade the protections of democracy.

We, the People fought to build this democracy with its laws and institutions and protections. This fight brought us a middle class with weekends off, good wages, worker protections and some degree of protection of our environment. "Free trade" deals let companies move factories across a border to escape those protections and pit exploited workers with few rights and no means of improving their condition against us and the protections we fought for. This scam enriches a few while putting the rest of us in a race to the bottom.

Americans have come to realize just how much this scam is hurting us. Pollsters have found that the public hates what "free trade" treaties like NAFTA and letting China into the World Trade Organization have done to our economy and our jobs. So business and administration bigwigs are "re-branding" the hated words "free trade" into "rules-based trade." So expect to be hearing less and less about "free trade" and more and more about "rules-based trade." Don't be fooled.

This morning's Progressive Breakfast has the story, (by the way, you can get Progressive Breakfast sent to you every morning. Click the link and sign up at the bottom. It's free.)

Free Trade R.I.P.

"Corporate leaders bury "free trade" label," The Wall Street Journal: "They declared support for free trade—rebranded 'rules-based trade' after pollsters Peter Hart and Bill McInturff warned that the phrase 'free trade' had become toxic with voters."

As I said, don't be fooled. If trade agreements do not protect the rights that We, the People fought for, and allow companies to evade the protections brought by democracy -- good jobs, good wages, safe and fair working conditions, the right to organize workers, environmental protections and other "costly" things -- then our government has no businesses agreeing to them. We can negotiate treaties that open up trade without shooting ourselves in the foot, and giving up our good jobs and wages, in order to enrich an already-wealthy few.

Here is what has been going on. In a classic "playing the ref" move, the Chamber of Commerce has been pitching the idea that the Obama administration is "anti-business" because they don't give the big, monopolist, multi-national corporations everything they want. "Playing the ref" is a sports term, the idea being that if you complain enough about the calls a referee makes the referee will feel the need to give your team a few breaks in order to appear to be making fair calls.

So the Chamber, by complaining that Obama is "anti-business," is really trying to get Obama to be even more pro-business. (The same strategy is at work when you hear complaints about the "liberal media." After so may years of this accusation by right-wingers, newsroom editors are terrified of appearing to be left-leaning, resulting in so many right-leaning news stories.)

The WSJ story, Obama's Overture to Business Gets Wary Reception From CEOs, shows how well the Chamber is doing at getting the desired results from playing the administration like a fiddle,

A parade of administration officials—including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, National Economic Council head Larry Summers, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee—sought to reassure about 100 corporate leaders gathered at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington that they were eager for business leaders' ideas to revive the economy.

The administration officials continued, in various ways, the overture to business leaders that President Barack Obama launched himself after the bruising midterm election, in which Democrats criticized U.S. multinationals for failing to hire more Americans. They said business tax rates should be lowered. They declared support for free trade—rebranded "rules-based trade" after pollsters Peter Hart and Bill McInturff warned that the phrase "free trade" had become toxic with voters.

The CEOs, in a vote, said the government's top priority should be to foster global trade and create a more business-friendly environment. But CEOs also said uncertainty about government policy on taxes and regulation remained a barrier to unlocking $2 trillion in capital sitting in the treasuries of U.S. non-financial businesses.


The best part of the story is that even though the administration is going all out to be more and more and more and more and more "business-friendly," the CEO crowd wasn't satisfied at all, and wanted more (and more and more and more).

Let's see if this sounds familiar. A conservative-aligned group complains that the Obama administration isn't being fair to them, is asking for too much, is being too partisan, whatever. The Obama administration responds by giving them more of what they want. The conservative-aligned group complains that it isn't enough. The Obama administration gives more, saying, "No, you're wrong about me!" The complaints continue, even increase, and eventually the conservatives all blame Obama for the resulting failures of policy.

Hey, they're going to call you names. Get used to it. It's what they do.

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Posted by Dave Johnson at November 17, 2010 1:36 PM


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