What Will We Tell the Children About Fast Track?

A group of students raising their hands in class.
A group of students raising their hands in class.

Once again, the American public is being sold a bill of goods when it comes to trade and its impact on our economy.

We're being told that the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive "free trade" agreement currently being negotiated behind closed doors by officials from the United States and 11 other countries, would expand the North American Free Trade (NAFTA) "model" that we were glibly assured would lead to job and economic growth.

Instead, as the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has repeatedly shown, this "model" -- essentially used when China was granted entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and later replicated in a trade agreement with Korea -- has resulted in massive U.S. trade deficits and job losses, downward pressure on wages, and unprecedented levels of inequality.

Like the claims of job and export growth in trade deals made by his predecessors, President Obama more recently promised that the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement would increase U.S. goods exports as much as $11 billion and support 70,000 American jobs. Yet in its first two years, U.S. exports actually declined, and growing trade deficits with South Korea, cost nearly 60,000 U.S. jobs.

Worse yet, the Obama administration is seeking the legislative slight of hand known as Fast Track authority to get TPP passed, an approach that would result in Congressional approval of the agreement without debate. In other words, the specific provisions of a massive trade agreement being negotiated in complete secrecy would become law without public scrutiny, despite the proven potential of such agreements to do severe harm to working families and their communities.

How severe that damage could be is evident in the results of trade with China since the U.S. granted it entry into the WTO in 2001. Growth in the U.S. goods trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2013, EPI reported recently, eliminated or displaced 3.2 million U.S. jobs, three-fourths of which were in manufacturing -- two-thirds of all U.S. manufacturing jobs lost or displaced from 2001 to 2013.

Furthermore, chronic currency manipulation by several countries in the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) has already cost nearly one million U.S. jobs and continues to add billions to the nation's mushrooming trade deficit.

As a resident of Detroit, I have not needed academic research to witness the devastating effects of NAFTA and the WTO, both of which were railroaded through Congress using Fast Track authority. The steep decline in manufacturing jobs was a contributing factor in driving Detroit into bankruptcy. Less evident but no less crippling has been the reduction in tax revenues induced by the loss of earning power once enjoyed by industrial workers. Cities throughout Michigan and the nation's industrial heartland and beyond are experiencing significant reductions in public services as a result.

For the 15,000 school leaders whom I represent in the American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA), Fast Track poses the threat of what is essentially double jeopardy. Not only do they face the prospect of further declines in public resources if TPP is passed without public scrutiny, they will face a serious educational challenge.

As school leaders, one of their primary responsibilities is guiding their teachers in educating the nation's children about how government works in a democratic society. So, the question is, how will we explain to the children whom we're encouraging to exercise critical thinking that the democratic process of representative government is being so blatantly flaunted by pursuit of Fast Track authority -- especially in light of the demonstrable failures resulting from the earlier use of Fast Track?

The best answer, of course, would be to avoid the troubling prospect of making the nation's educators talk out of both sides of their mouths about true democracy by preventing our leaders addiction to secrecy from being used to win passage of TPP. Or, as we counsel the children about addictions of all sorts, "Just say, No!"