Repeat After Us: Free Trade Is Great!

Boy, it’s tough being a street protester these days. You

make up a few placards denouncing free-trade agreements, show up at a big

summit meeting, maybe say a bad word or two about politicians, and Thomas

Friedman all but calls you a gangster on the Op-Ed Page of The New York Times. Well, maybe not a gangster, but a member of the

“anti-globalization gang,” which, at the very least, makes you a gang member.

Maybe that’s not so bad an appellation after all. What’s the

point of being in a gang if not to fight against … the other gang, that being

the “pro-globalization gang” (the Sharks, perhaps?). It is unlikely, however,

that the pro-globalists will ever be described with such contempt. For,

according to the keepers of globalist dogma, the pro-globalists-the Sharks-wish

only to spread prosperity throughout the world, to bring jobs to the jobless,

wages to the poverty-stricken and laptops to the illiterate.

Like Mr. Friedman, I didn’t go to Quebec City for the Summit

of the Americas; unlike Mr. Friedman, I didn’t go to Africa instead so I could

talk with great authority about the benefits of free trade in that impoverished

continent. No, I was too busy that weekend running errands and shuttling

children in my middle-aged Honda or my nearly new Toyota-I am, you see, not

entirely adverse to the pleasures of global capitalism, although, thanks to the

superb work of my friend Phil Mushnick of the Post , no Nike swoosh will ever stain my footwear.

Removed though I was from recent events abroad, I was not

surprised to learn, from The Wall Street Journal , that television

coverage of the summit gave undue attention to the protesters (some of them

admittedly repellent, clueless and even dangerous) and, from Mr. Friedman, that

Africans want American jobs. Who doesn’t? Why, even Americans want American

jobs, but as Americans are very expensive and make all kinds of retro demands

(paid vacations, medical benefits, a smidgen of dignity)-well, we can have none

of that in the great global marketplace, now can we?

Mr. Friedman has divided the anti-globalist gang into two

factions: the well-intentioned but ill-informed, and the well-informed but

ill-intentioned. I called John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s Magazine , author of The

Selling of ‘Free Trade ‘ and charter member of the anti-globalist gang, to

see which faction he belongs to. “Friedman would probably put me in a category

all by myself: ill-informed and

ill-intentioned,” he said with a laugh.

Mr. MacArthur has had the audacity to question not just Mr.

Friedman, but the globalist orthodoxy that he polices with such enthusiasm. In

his book, Mr. MacArthur shows a side of globalism that members of the other

gang either ignore or explain away: He demonstrated, through the lives of

actual American workers whose jobs were moved from Long Island City to Mexico,

precisely how globalism is knocking out several rungs on the great American

economic ladder. This kind of reporting breaks the establishment’s rules: When

writing of globalization, one is expected either to cite generalities or to

chronicle the lives of Third World workers delighted with their daily wage of

39 cents or so. One is not to record the devastation in working-class

communities like Long Island City. That’s not fair play, you see.

I asked Mr. MacArthur why critics like himself and the

protesters in Quebec inspire such contempt among establishment, pro-globalism

commentators. “Most free traders in the press call themselves ‘social

liberals,'” he said. “And they get angry because their consciences are getting

pricked, because they feel accused of hypocrisy. It hits them where they live.”

Mr. MacArthur believes

that free trade is to the early 21st-century what busing was to the 1970’s.

“Back then, every liberal would say, ‘I’m for busing,’ but none of them had

kids in public schools,” he said. “They weren’t affected by it, and they knew

nobody who was. In the same way, they say they’re for free trade because, they

say, it helps poor people in other countries. But they don’t know anybody here

who’s affected by free trade. They don’t know anybody who’s getting screwed.

And it’s the working class that’s losing jobs or working longer hours to make

up for lower wages.”

Mr. MacArthur is an unabashed protectionist, but one needn’t

be-one might even drive a Toyota with a clear conscience-to question the

exploitation and economic injustices carried out in the name of globalism, to

point out that globalism, in its rawest form, is not about spreading wealth,

but driving down wages.

Establishment commentators are constantly amazed to find

that labor unions would fight to keep good-paying jobs in America. Presumably,

the Op-Ed elites would like the unions to act like other members of the

commentating class and simply go along with the program.

It’s good for business, after all.