The Lost Allure of Global Free Trade

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LONDON — President Clinton’s decision to pull his fast-track trade bill from the House floor early Monday morning rather than face a humiliating defeat marks a turning point in U.S. history. For the first time since World War II, the nation’s financial, political and intellectual elites have been repudiated on a great question of foreign policy.

On the issues of trade, economic independence and national sovereignty, the establishment has lost the country. The American people, through their representatives in the House, are refusing to continue on the course the leaders of both parties have mapped out for the country. “Global free trade” has lost its allure, and economic nationalism is now in the saddle. That is the meaning of the Clinton climb-down on Monday morning.

If the president and the Republican leadership in Congress do not wish real political upheaval, they will pull fast track for good. It would truly be an act of arrogance and folly to continue bullying and bribing recalcitrant congressmen to embrace a global trade policy in which the country no longer believes.

Clinton and his Republican and corporate cohorts lost because they have smugly dismissed the valid concerns of Middle America and working men and women. What are the greatest of these concerns?

First, American immersion in the Global Economy has produced a steady decline in workers’ wages in the United States, which are now below where they were in 1973. And even though more mothers of preschool children and more wives are in the labor force than at any other time in our history, median family income is $1,000 below where it was when Ronald Reagan left office. Every state, every county, every city has a story of a factory closed, jobs going overseas and neighborhoods dying a quiet death.

Second, America’s economic independence is being sacrificed, and our national security is being put at risk. In 25 American states, there are now more workers in government than in manufacturing. Imports now equal 50 percent of domestic manufacture; as late as 1970, it was only 10 percent. And many vital U.S. weapons systems now could not operate without foreign-made parts.

Third, U.S. national sovereignty is being compromised and surrendered. Foreign nations are lining up to file challenges with the World Trade Organization against dozens of American laws — from U.S. sanctions on Cuba, Libya and Iran to “buy American” programs at the state and local level.

Fourth, as America ceases to be the self-sufficient nation she once was, she becomes increasingly vulnerable to incompetence and corruption beyond her shores. Financial blunders in Mexico City and Asia can now shake U.S. markets, put the nation’s financial stability at risk and lead to endless bailouts of bankrupt “trading partners.”

Finally, American immersion in the Global Economy has left her exposed to all the viruses that afflict so many foreign regimes — from cronyism to corruption. The BCCI scandal, Koreagate and Lippogate are all the result of foreign penetration of the U.S. economy and American political system. And, today, former U.S. officials from senators to secretaries of state now routinely rent themselves out to foreign regimes and foreign firms. Not long ago, such conduct would have been considered shameful. But in the Global Economy, the claims of country take a back seat to corporate commands.

Clinton’s problem then is that for the majority of Americans the material gains they derive from entanglement in the Global Economy are not worth the cost to their country and their countrymen.

This vote is a “no-brainer,” said Clinton in his final plea for fast track.

Unfortunately for him, the country took a second look at the $800 billion in trade deficits that Clinton has run up — and agreed.

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