Friday, February 29, 2008

Does It Play in Peoria?

In advance of the Ohio primary, both Clinton and Obama have suggested that the US might want to reopen the NAFTA debate with an eye to increasing labor and environmental protections. This suggestion drew entirely predictable howls of dismay from the business press.

I'm not going to say the business press is wrong. The impact of NAFTA is too complex a subject to get into here. But what do you say to the people of Ohio? Ohio built its economy around manufacturing and trade in manufactured goods. As a result, the state has carried a disproportionate share of the burden of globalization. Manufacturing jobs have left the state, but financial services, software, and other technology-driven industries haven't moved in. Ohio's unemployment rate stands at 6%, a full point higher than the nation as a whole. The people of Ohio do not think that NAFTA has helped them, regardless of what it has done (or not) for the nation as a whole.

The same story is behind anti-globalization movements worldwide. Farmers in Pakistan do not welcome American cotton, nor is cattle ranching good for the inhabitants of the Amazon. Globalization is seen--rightly or wrongly--as enriching business owners while impoverishing their employees. Advocates of globalization assure us that is not the case, that global prosperity is a tide that lifts all boats.

Maybe so. But until the people of Ohio agree, treaties like NAFTA will rest on shaky political foundations.

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