For all the talk from "free trade"-backing politicians about needing to engage the world, most of them understand almost nothing about how the world sees our international economic policies. As I show in my new newspaper column this week, our so-called Washington Consensus policies on globalization are stirring a backlash in both the industrialized and developing worlds.
To report this column, I conducted exclusive interviews with two foreign leaders - Jack Layton, head of Canada's New Democratic Party, and Otton Solis, the Costa Rican economist who formed a new political party in his country that almost won the presidency. Both of them expressed deep concerns about NAFTA-style trade deals - not only because those deals empower corporations to overturn laws passed by democratically elected governments, but because they aren't "free" in any sense of the word - they include all sorts of protectionist provisions for corporate profits. And as the column shows, their sentiment is backed up by public opinion in their parts of the world.
This is all very relevant because - if you hadn't noticed - a heated debate over trade and globalization policies is currently occurring in American politics. As Democrats sharpen their fair trade talk and promises, people like John McCain are making wild accusations claiming that such moves will alienate the rest of the world - when in fact the actual public opinion data shows precisely the opposite. Far from quelling anti-Americanism and building diplomatic bridges, our current trade policies exacerbate anti-Americanism and burn what few diplomatic bridges we have left.
This isn't to say that the rest of the world is "anti-trade." That's the tired, cartoonish phrase that the "free" trade extremists use to describe anyone who wants a new trade policy (and I put "free" in quotes because, as Solis notes in my column, "free" trade deals are protectionist - they are just protectionist for corporations). Progressives here and abroad are all for trade and commerce - they just want the rules of trade to protect people and the environment, before they protect corporate bottom lines.
The problem, of course, is that the debate over globalization has left the "reality-based" world. While reformers are arguing with actual facts, figures and history, the Establishment argues with empty rhetoric that actually thumbs its nose at facts. Remember, it was none other than Tom Friedman - America's leading cheerleader for status quo trade policies - who actually went on national television and bragged that "I wrote a column supporting CAFTA. I didn't even know what was in it. I just knew two words: free trade." That's right - in the face of growing global animosity to America's trade policy, our country's leading Republican displays no understanding of trade policy, and our country's leading "intellectual" thinker on trade trumpets the fact that he advocates for trade deals that he doesn't even bother to read.
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