To the Editor:
Re “Free-Traders Having Second Thoughts” [May 14]: Mr. Von Hoffman’s criticisms of free trade are nothing original. It is well known among decision makers that the income gap in the United States is widening, and that the middle class, having enjoyed the benefits of a liberal trade policy in the form of vastly cheaper manufactured goods, is now terrified that their jobs will follow those of their blue-collar compatriots overseas.
The reason Mr. Von Hoffman brings us this article is apparently that economists are finally beginning to question the merits of free trade—and in publications no less august than Foreign Affairs. However, the problems with free trade that Mr. Von Hoffman cites, such as poisoned pet-food and a large number of poor people in Mexico, are not the indications of an inherently flawed system, but rather challenges that politicians, up till now, have refused to address.
While Mr. Von Hoffman may prefer to leave the solutions in God’s hands, a bipartisan plan now brewing in Washington would expand environmental and labor protections abroad while increasing access to Trade Adjustment Assistance programs for white-collar workers in the U.S.
Those reforms are important, but they don’t go far enough. A far more necessary reform is an adjustment of domestic tax policy that would decrease the tax burden on the middle class and businesses while drastically increasing income taxes on that lucky 2 percent who run those businesses.
Politicians and labor leaders would be of much more service to their constituencies if they stopped pandering to loud xenophobes and instead took serious measures to improve a system that, at its core, has the potential to help raise millions out of poverty.