Why Free Trade Helps Social Welfare Programs

SAN FRANCISCO: Nowadays, most discussions about social policy are muddled by the notion that free trade hurts society. Everywhere you look, well-meaning groups see imports as a threat to their pet social programs, from welfare to environmental protection. The result? Strange alliances between the romantic and nationalist right, the green left, and self-interested parties such as trade unions appear to oppose free trade. In America, this new protectionist/social policy pact scored a big victory recently in derailing President Clinton’s request for so-called "fast-track" negotiating authority from Congress, which he intended to use in order to bring Chile into the North American Free Trade zone (NAFTA).

The furious opposition of social policy advocates to free trade, however, cannot stand scrutiny. Many U.S. environmentalists, for example, claimed that NAFTA would undermine American environmental standards. Four years later, that heavily prophesied "race to the bottom" is scarcely to be sniffed.

Look to America’s northern border and you see that free trade is indeed compatible with divergent national welfare objectives. The US/Canada trade agreement (a precursor to NAFTA) was once opposed by Canadians who worried that their country’s generous social welfare programs would be fatally undermined by it. "I have an immense fear," said Edward Broadbent, the leader of Canada’s Social Democrats back then, "that if the agreement is put in place, corporate pressures would mount to harmonize Canadian social policies, such as subsidized Medicare and pensions, with lower American standards.’"

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.

required

Log in

http://prosyn.org/uk98cHP;
  1. Patrick Kovarik/Getty Images

    The Summit of Climate Hopes

    Presidents, prime ministers, and policymakers gather in Paris today for the One Planet Summit. But with no senior US representative attending, is the 2015 Paris climate agreement still viable?

  2. Trump greets his supporters The Washington Post/Getty Images

    Populist Plutocracy and the Future of America

    • In the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump has consistently sold out the blue-collar, socially conservative whites who brought him to power, while pursuing policies to enrich his fellow plutocrats. 

    • Sooner or later, Trump's core supporters will wake up to this fact, so it is worth asking how far he might go to keep them on his side.
  3. Agents are bidding on at the auction of Leonardo da Vinci's 'Salvator Mundi' Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

    The Man Who Didn’t Save the World

    A Saudi prince has been revealed to be the buyer of Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi," for which he spent $450.3 million. Had he given the money to the poor, as the subject of the painting instructed another rich man, he could have restored eyesight to nine million people, or enabled 13 million families to grow 50% more food.

  4.  An inside view of the 'AknRobotics' Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

    Two Myths About Automation

    While many people believe that technological progress and job destruction are accelerating dramatically, there is no evidence of either trend. In reality, total factor productivity, the best summary measure of the pace of technical change, has been stagnating since 2005 in the US and across the advanced-country world.

  5. A student shows a combo pictures of three dictators, Austrian born Hitler, Castro and Stalin with Viktor Orban Attila Kisbenedek/Getty Images

    The Hungarian Government’s Failed Campaign of Lies

    The Hungarian government has released the results of its "national consultation" on what it calls the "Soros Plan" to flood the country with Muslim migrants and refugees. But no such plan exists, only a taxpayer-funded propaganda campaign to help a corrupt administration deflect attention from its failure to fulfill Hungarians’ aspirations.

  6. Project Syndicate

    DEBATE: Should the Eurozone Impose Fiscal Union?

    French President Emmanuel Macron wants European leaders to appoint a eurozone finance minister as a way to ensure the single currency's long-term viability. But would it work, and, more fundamentally, is it necessary?

  7. The Year Ahead 2018

    The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s come apart in the past year, and anticipate what will define the year ahead.

    Order now