Why the NAFTA-style Free Trade Agreement Will Fail to Benefit Colombia

October 21, 2011  |   Economics & Trade

Why the NAFTA-style Free Trade Agreement Will Fail to Benefit Colombia

Despite evidence of limited economic welfare benefits and significant social costs, Latin American countries have been signing and ratifying trade treaties with the United States since the early 1990s.  This week, the long-stalled treaties with Colombia and Panama were ratified by the U.S. congress and signed by the President.  Like other trade treaties, these were based on the same template that has been the basis for U.S. trade policy since NAFTA. In the case of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (Colombia FTA), promises from the government of President Juan Manuel Santos to better protect trade unionists pressured enough reluctant Democrats to vote in favor of the agreement.  Over 4,000 trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia in the past 20 years, mostly by right-wing paramilitaries with links to the government, making Colombia the most dangerous country in the world to support collective bargaining rights. Colombian labor union leaders have rejected government claims that human rights and trade unionist protection has improved, denigrating symbolic gestures aimed at securing U.S. ratification of the  agreement, which they rightly claim will help multinational companies over Colombian workers. In addition to doubts that the Colombian government will live up to its promises vis-à-vis the trade unionists, the gains from trade that Colombia can expect once the agreement is in force are ambiguous at best.  When the gains to some sectors (e.g. cut flowers, leather goods, seafood, textiles, certain services) are measured against the losses to other sectors (e.g. rice, corn, poultry, communications technology),  along with fiscal

Read More...

Conceptual Frameworks, Language, and Messaging: Why Conservatives have dominated American public discourse, politics, and policy for a generation

October 21, 2011  |   Progressive Political Commentary

Conceptual Frameworks, Language, and Messaging: Why Conservatives have dominated American public discourse, politics, and policy for a generation

The anger on the Tea Party right, and the frustration on the left that has energized the "Occupy” movement in cities across America, spring from similar, mostly economic, dissatisfactions. The difference is that those on the rightght have been co-opted to a set of beliefs that are actually in opposition to their own economic interests. Those involved in the “Occupy” movement, and others on the left are quite clear about where their interests lie, despite concerns by media pundits that the participants in the “Occupy” movement thus far lack a clear set of policy demands. Voters from the right vote their aspirations, rather than their reality, while the policies they support make it less likely that they (or their children) will ever achieve the economic security and self reliance to which they aspire. Led to believe that they could succeed if only government would get out of the way, they believe in “personal freedom,” but lack an understanding of the nature of freedom as defined by our Constitution.  They advocate an ideology of “personal responsibility,” rejecting the mutual responsibility required for social and national cohesion and willfully ignorant of the benefits they enjoy thanks to a social contract embodied by our government. The right demands lower taxes and ever smaller, ever more impotent government, focused narrowly on national security, administration of a harsh conception of justice (largely punishment, meted out by a for-profit prison industry), and promotion of the orderly but “unfettered” conduct of business.  Despite incongruity with a small-government

Read More...

Mexico’s Most Critical Problems are Also Our Own

September 25, 2010  |   Mexico Politics and Policy

August 15, 2010 By Paul Crist  Mexico’s once growing middle class is under attack from above and below, and the stress is showing up in the shrinking numbers who can claim middle class status.  This trend predates the current economic crisis, but has been greatly exacerbated by it.  Middle class Mexicans face a political and economic system stacked in favor of the super-rich above them, while from below they face kidnappings and robbery by desperate and angry criminal poor. Predation from Above: Despite modest progress, entrenched crony capitalism where bribery is the rule and who-you-know counts for more than knowledge, hard work or risk-taking, remains the order of the day in Mexico.  Leaders from across the spectrum of Mexican politics must accept the majority of blame, although there is culpability north of the Mexican border as well.  Progress toward political transparency and economic liberalism has been incremental in some areas, nonexistent in others.  Privatization of formerly government-controlled industries have enriched a handful of wealthy and politically connected Mexicans, as well as a fair number of politicians.  As a popular Mexican saying goes “un político pobre es un pobre político,” (“A poor politician is a poor politician”). Mexican consumers pay higher prices for a lower quality of service and reduced availabil­ity of goods.  The state-corporatist system of price supports, subsidies, and special-interest tax exemptions gives an unfair advantage to wealthy and well-connected businessmen while restricting competition and obstructing eco­nomic growth.  Of course, the most critical result of anticompetitive policies for Mexican

Read More...

Economic Discontent and Conservatives’ Secret Weapon to Win the Class War

September 25, 2010  |   Economics & Trade Politics and Policy

Paul Crist August 13, 2010 Framing the Issue: Class War The white-hot anger on the “Tea Party” political right and the frustration on the political left largely spring from the same fundamental problem: A generation of increasing economic inequality, job insecurity, loss of privilege, and a once optimistic middle class that is under attack and demoralized. Political and mainstream corporate news media leaders avoid the term, but what we are confronting is class warfare in America.  The conflict is essentially between the owners of capital, and the owners of labor.  The battle lines are less clear than in the past, but this is not the first time in our national history that we’ve been here.  In the late 19th and early 20th century, there was only a small middle class relative to the population.  The period from 1940 to the 1960’s saw a tremendous growth of a middle class that, while their principal asset remains labor, also holds some capital assets (home equity, stock ownership, and retirement funds) that they fiercely desire to protect.  That has helped society’s true economic elites to enlist a substantial subset of the middle class to espouse a capitalist ideology that is largely in opposition to their real economic interests.  Asset price bubbles during the past several decades helped to strengthen the ideology of wealth acquisition through capital ownership among middle and working classes, but the bursting of the housing price bubble and consequent financial crisis has been a major blow to the middle class

Read More...

Topics