Was Ross Perot right about the North American Free Trade Agreement and its effects on workers and immigration? That is the subject of my newest nationally syndicated newspaper column out this past Friday. This is a key question in the wake of Hillary Clinton trying to laugh off the topic at the last presidential debate (see the interchange here on YouTube).
Roughly 20 million Americans in 1992 thought that he was, in fact, right. Those are 20 million independent swing voters - a Ross Perot voter demographic that remains absolutely critical. Just take a look at this map - and make sure to roll your cursor over the states. Notice anything interesting? Yes, that's right: The states where Perot did best are some of the most closely divided and therefore politically important states in the country - states like Nevada, Colorado, Maine, Arizona and Oregon.
The Wall Street Journal notes, the debate over NAFTA is becoming ever more intense in the Democratic caucus race in Iowa. Ben Smith at the Politico puts the whole political question in stark relief in a story published one day after my column:
Though Perot has been off the stage for a decade, strategists in both parties recognize that his supporters remain a key bloc and that voters' dissatisfaction at the end of the administration of the second President Bush has echoes of the mood when his father was booted from office. What's more, neither party has geared up to focus on pet issues of the Perot crowd: opposition to immigration, unfettered trade and foreign wars.
Substantively, whether Perot was right is pretty clear. Though the Washington Post this morning trumpets "NAFTA's record of raising living standards here and in Mexico," as my column shows, the actual facts prove that's a typical lie manufactured by the the same paper that, as economist Jeff Faux documents, worked overtime to silence all criticism of the original NAFTA. Since NAFTA passed, Mexican wages have plummeted increasing illegal immigration pressure at the southern border. Meanwhile, American wages have stagnated, and a million American jobs have been eliminated. That says nothing about the environmental degradation that NAFTA helped accelerate.
Since the column was published, some have asked me how its possible for Mexican wages to have decreased at the same time American jobs were shipped to Mexico. Part of it had to do with the Peso crisis, but the other part has to do with how NAFTA drove Mexican farmers off their land under a glut of corporate agribusiness subsidies. As Mexican farmers headed north to the cities and to the maquiladora border regions in search of NAFTA's manufacturing jobs (the giant sucking sound), there was a glut of cheap labor for these jobs, which was precisely the point. As we all know from our Economics 101 lessons about supply and demand, when there are more workers than there are jobs, wages go down. That's what happened in Mexico.
I hope leading Democrats take a good look at the electoral map and stop going on television and laughing at Perot. But more important than even that, I hope Congress takes a good look at Perot's arguments, and factors them in before passing the new NAFTA expansion it is considering. Those who ignore the history are doomed to repeat it - and America's middle class can't afford to be trampled yet again.
Go read the full column here. And if you'd like to see my column regularly in your local paper, use this directory to find the contact info for your local editorial page editors. Get get in touch with them and point them to my Creators Syndicate site.
On that topic, there's some great news: Thanks to reader support, the column's circulation is growing. The Seattle Times and TruthDig have been added to the list of publications now running my column regularly. Also, the San Francisco Chronicle (which runs the column in its print edition) has added the column to its website as well. So reader support really matters - thanks to all who have helped!