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Free Trade

Somebody has to do something and it’s just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.
~ Jerry Garcia (1942-08-01 1995-08-09 age:53), The Grateful Dead
Introduction The End of Unions
Goals of Free Trade Civil Rights
Effects of Free Trade The Suzuki Objections
The Catch The Cohen Objection
Environmental Problems The Deadbeat Index
Safety Problems Belling the Cat
Sovereignty Problems An Airplane Flying Through A Building
Socialism Books
National Identity Learning More
Self Sufficiency Summary


Globalisation and Free Trade sound like a heck of an idea. Lower tariffs, level the playing field between rich and poor nations, increase trade. Notables like George W. Bush, Paul Martin, Stephen Harper and Milton Friedman championed it. Why then are so many people incoherent with rage over the idea? These protesters include the: What are they so upset about? What are they so worried will happen?

Goals of Free Trade

  1. Increase global trade.
  2. Turn all goods and services into fungible commodities. It must not matter to anyone the source of any good or service, otherwise automatic substitution would be impossible. It is almost as if they demanded all wines be labeled simply generic wine.
  3. Freely exploit the cheapest possible labour.
  4. Erode the power of government by forcing all governments to the lowest common denominator of environmental or labour regulation, (or any other interference) that reduces profit.

Effects of Free Trade

  1. It does indeed dramatically increase global trade.
  2. Free trade gobbles oil transporting goods all over the planet that formerly would have been acquired locally. This is a very stupid thing to do. Oil is rapidly running out. We should be making it stretch. Further, we are needlessly exacerbating global warming.
  3. Because Free Trade implies the right of corporations to sue governments for doing anything that might reduce profits, environmental protection in all countries is whittled down to the lowest common denominator. It turns countries like Canada into third world cess pools. Free trade without this feature is certainly possible, though obviously it is popular with corporations.
  4. It means information about products is hidden from consumers. Customers are not permitted to discriminate when purchasing based on quality, including pesticide content, conditions of the workers who created it, GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) content, sanitation… I had a wonderful time visiting both India and Indonesia, but both times I became deathly ill despite my heroic measures to avoid infection. With my weakened immune system, it would be foolish of me to eat food prepared with typical Indian or Indonesian sanitation. It would be crazy for me to eat meat from Brazil where rivers and fields are dangerously polluted with insecticides and industrial waste. Yet surely I am unknowingly eating these products because free traders have again and again insisted that labels not tell me the true origin of what I eat. Many people, myself included, have had to stop eating wheat entirely because Monsanto’s latest unlabeled Frankenfood gives me diarrhoea. When a box of dried pineapple says product of Canada, it does not really mean the pineapples where grown there. To me it is worth a premium to eat food prepared under scrupulously sanitary conditions. You don’t usually get that in the third world.
  5. Globalisation results in specialisation and the closing of production everywhere else, killing jobs and leaving a country vulnerable in an emergency, not able to look after itself.
  6. Globalisation drives wages down all over the world and kills any sort of labour protection legislation. When this happens in the third world, the people die. The wages are effectively lower than under slavery. Slaveowners treated their slaves like livestock. They would not dream of starving them to death by the time they were 30 as happens today is sweatshops all over the third world. The flip side of this is Walmarts swell with cheap goods.
  7. Trading in futures and speculating in fungible goods and services makes prices unstable.
  8. All that transporting inadvertently introduces invasive species all over the world, causing mass extinction of native species. It also helps plagues reach every place on earth within days.

The Catch

In 1860, free trade meant lowering the tariffs on goods transported across national borders. Today the term used in the context of the WTO (World Trade Organisation) and FTAA (Free Trade Agreement of the Americas) means much more. It means prohibiting anything that would interfere with international trade. Multinational corporations want uniform global regulations for every aspect of their business dealings. Isn’t that a Good Thing™? What is happening is a transfer of power from the individual nation states to multinational corporations. The catch is a corporation is not democratic. A corporation is not responsible to the citizens as a whole, just to its shareholders. A corporation has no constitution, no ethics unless you count Ferengiism as an ethical system. A corporation’s sole purpose is to make money. Let’s have a look at what happens when you make profitable international trade your number one priority.

Environmental Problems

Corporate think is very short term. What counts is the next quarter’s profits. Conserving natural resources for future generations just does not fit into a balance sheet. Clean water and air, are simply unnecessary expenses. When Canada, for example, tried to ban a carginogenic gasoline additive, the global free trade associations ruled that this was an unfair restraint of trade. The WTO argued what Canada was really doing was favouring is own clean gasoline. Canada was forced to accept carginogenic gasoline. Canada would be forced to accept genetically engineered and irradiated food. Canada would lose control which pesticides are acceptable. Canada would lose the ability to regulate ozone-destroying emissions or greenhouse gases.

Free trade pushes all countries to the lowest common denominator in terms of environmental awareness.

Safety Problems

Let us say that Sweden decided to mandate side air bags and a 48.28 km/hr (30 mph) crash safety test. The free trade associations could block them from doing that. The WTO would likely argue what Sweden is actually doing is attempting to favour locally manufactured automobiles.

Free trade wants all workers to be interchangeable. Canada would be forced to accept doctors accredited in India or Africa without further training. The WTO would argue that further training is prejudice.

Canada’s strict gun laws would have to go because they are an unfair restraint on sales of American handguns.

Sovereignty Problems

The new rules allow corporations to sue countries if those countries do anything that would cause them to make less profit. For example, if Canada refused to sell bulk water to a Hong Kong company, that company could sue Canada for the amount of the lost profit. Free trade means roughly: everything is for sale and everything must be sold to the highest bidder.


Canada has a popular publicly funded universal medical insurance scheme. This would have to go. The FTAA would argue it is an unfair tax upon corporations and an unfair perk to Canadian citizens.

The FTAA would encourage privatilsation of schools, universities, medical care, hospitals, libraries, museums, prisons, transportation, broadcasting and many other services previously provided or regulated by communities and governments.

National Identity

Small countries are not permitted to subsidise local authors and magazine publishers. Publishers must compete toe to toe with imports from large nations such as the USA. Yet, local authors, magazines and artists are necessary to maintain a distinct national identity. The WTO would argue subsidising local authors is unfair to authors in other countries.

Self Sufficiency

Japan wants to grow enough rice in Japan itself so that in the event of an emergency, such as a Chinese naval blockade, they could still get by. Obviously rice can be grown more cheaply outside Japan. Yet free trade rules prohibit Japan from offering any subsidies to local farmers. Free trade rules force Japan to rely on imported rice.

The End of Unions

A union cannot apply any pressure when the employer can freely hire workers or buy goods on the international market at third world prices. Only a global union would have any clout. The corporations are multi-national but the unions are national. This tips the balance of power drastically in favour of the corporations. We end up with children in Pakistan making shoes for Nike at pennies an hour. Unions cannot compete with the third world countries willing to work for slave wages. Work conditions in both first and third world countries drop to the lowest common denominator. No one benefits but the multinational employers.

Civil Rights

Partly because Free Trade has weakened unions, it has given repressive governments even more power to suppress free speech. Even in the USA some unprecedented gagging has occurred concerning free trade debate.

The Suzuki Objections

Dr. David Suzuki is Canada’s best known scientist. He is geneticist who for decades has host the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) science program The Nature of Things. He pointed out that economic growth is not a Good Thing™, at least not while it simply means faster consumption of non-renewable resources and faster rates of polluting the environment. The growth spiral we are on may make sense economically, but it is doomed ecologically. We are as blind as lemmings, refusing to notice the signs of imminent ecological collapse caused by this accelerating economic growth. Runaway growth in nature is called cancer. The only indefinitely sustainable economy is a closed system that recycles everything and that does not pollute. Multinational corporations are blind to this. All they can see the next quarter profit.

Suzuki also points out that Canada was economically better off before free trade. We were able to grow all our own food and manufacture all our own goods locally. Now, the main thing we export is jobs and trained workers attracted by the higher salaries to the south.

The WTO and FTAA appear to consider profit as the only legitimate criterion for decision making. This view is short sighted. Clearly economics are a major factor in decision making, but it is folly to make them the only consideration.

The Cohen Objection

Any System

Any system you contrive without us
will be brought down
We warned you before
and nothing that you build has stood
Hear it as you lean over your blueprint
Hear it as you roll up your sleeve
Hear it once again
Any system you contrive without us
will be brought down
You have your drugs
You have your guns
You have your Pyramids your Pentagons
With all your grass and bullets
you cannot hunt us any more
All that we disclose of ourselves forever
is this warning
Nothing that you built has stood
Any system you contrive without us
will be brought down
~ Leonard Cohen (1934-09-21 2016-11-10 age:82)

reproduced without permission.

The Deadbeat Index

In a fair world trade system, you would get paid the same per hour for equally onerous work no matter where on earth you did the work. You would get paid more for climbing in sewers, for doing a job that only a few people can do, or for doing a job that takes long preparation, such as being a doctor.

How is the world organised now? Americans get paid perhaps over an order of magnitude times more for the same work as people in the poorest countries. Who is ripping off whom? That disparity is only possible when America takes unfair advantage of her economic and military might. People don’t voluntarily put up with that degree of disparity. All the countries in the west take unfair advantage of the third world, not just America. It is just that America is most blatant because she is the most powerful.

Who is the deadbeat? I suggest creating a deadbeat index. By definition Americans have index 1. People paid more on average for equal work than Americans would have a deadbeat index greater than one. People paid less on average for equal work than Americans would have a deadbeat index less than one, perhaps as low as 0.025. In a fair world, everyone would have the same deadbeat index, namely 1.0. The index is cleverly defined so that America has already hit perfection. It is time to bring the rest of the world into alignment.

Of course, it is a Good Thing™ if everyone can get paid more for less work, including Americans. It is only taking more than your fair share of the pie that makes you a deadbeat. Making the pie bigger (producing more with less labour) does not make you a deadbeat.

Belling the Cat

World trade is working right now for the benefit of large multinationals. Something needs to be done to reign them in. National governments can’t seem to do it. Perhaps an international government could. On the other hand, such an international government could easily become the pawn of the multinationals to consolidate their power, much as the corporations have taken over the Bush administration of the United States.

An Airplane Flying Through A Building

These are awe inspiring images. America stabs herself repeatedly in the heart, watching them over and over. America’s unconscious imagines nearly all of America has been destroyed. It is terrifying to see your enemies (world traders) smitten so dramatically. Even though the WTO has no formal links with the World Trade Building, I have been queasy with fear and guilt. I wanted the WTO destroyed or reformed, but non-violently. I would have preferred a dramatic, humorous and original approach. To put the carnage in perspective, flaws in the global economic system kills 24 thousand people quietly every day through hunger and disease. Some of that may stop after this wakeup call.

In Lord of the Rings, there are a tree people called the Ents who are slow to anger, but once enraged, demolish their enemies. It was as if the entire planet had quite enough of the WTO and wanted that annoying bee sting plucked from its butt. The idea was resonating in the planetary mind and the terrorists acted it out. The psychic tension in the days prior was unbearable. I imagine that even a Joshua would have demolished the World Trade Center under these conditions, simply by blowing his trumpet.


book cover recommend book⇒The Selling of Free Trade: NAFTA, Washington and the Subversion of American Democracyto book home
by John R. MacArthur, Jr. 978-0-520-23178-8 paperback
birth 1956 age:61 978-0-8090-8531-6 hardcover
publisher University of California
published 2001-10-16
MacArthur is editor of Harper’s Magazine. People have accepted NAFTA because few people bothered to read the agreement and discover it had nothing at all to do with free trade. It is about giving Americans the same rights as Canadians when it comes to buying up Canadian resources and companies.
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Learning More

Unfortunately the literature opposing FTAA mostly falls into two camps, the dull and the shrill. You usually have to wade through mountains of rhetoric to get to the meat.


Prior to the airline crash into the World Trade Center, you could watch CNN (Cable News Network) for a 24 hours day and learn not a thing about what the fuss about world trade was over. All you saw were shots of firehoses. Imagine if Martin Luther King’s marches had been given this same silent treatment. The Internet changes everything. You can’t keep people in the dark and feed them bullshit any more, unless, of course, they want to be keep in the dark and fed bullshit.

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