portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary global

environment | health | technology

Case Against Free Trade

I am a high school student, and was given an assignment to state my case for or against Free Trade. This is my paper, no especially new information---nor is it lengthy or indepth.
Happy reading!
In theory, free trade is a true blessing (mind you, only for the rich upper & middle class). But I am questioning whether or not it truly is a blessing, or if in fact we are digging our economic grave, by rushing the occurrence of peak oil. Those aren't the only graves we're digging----we're digging the graves of poverty-stricken countries, the graves of rainforests & countless endangered species, millions of cattle, and well, fashion artists everywhere.
Peak oil is just around the corner, which means there will be utter chaos, and the economy will crumble. Yet, oddly enough we are using obscene amounts of oil to transport our toilet seats from China. Thanks to free trade, the produce you eat travels 1,500 miles before it reaches you. That means a lot of petroleum is being used (it also means your food tastes worse), bringing peak oil closer and closer. We're losing precious oil and economic peace to ship toilets & carrots from China! The next Great Depression is about to happen in the next five to ten years, and we're guzzling petroleum like we did in the 1950's----for toilets! In an effort to not support free trade, we should start our own gardens, and start buying locally. A move to the city or environmentally conscious region can greatly relieve your dependency on free trade.
Virtually everything is made in poor countries with less public safety, environmental, and labor protection laws. For example, they outlawed refining copper in certain ways because it was so bad for the environment. So, they ship the copper overseas where they can pollute like crazy then sell the cleaned up copper back to us. So essentially, we're polluting less here and polluting more around poor people. There is something wrong with that.
Now let's consider that a huge focus of interest for Jesus, was helping the poor. We're not doing a damn thing for the poor if we're shoving dangerous chemicals in their air, and giving them a dime a day for their labor. When Jesus came, he basically said "What you do to the least of these, you also do to me." So, what I do to the poor, the lower class... I do them to my best friend, Jesus. I'd never send toxic chemicals into the lungs of Jesus, but according to what He said, I am doing just that when I support free trade.
Now can we consider that by supporting free trade, I am supporting the meat industry? As a relatively strict vegan, I probably shouldn't be doing that. Lots of veggies come from places where they just bulldozed rainforests to make farmland. And they're growing it in ways that are really bad for people, the land and the animals (pesticides, overgrowing so oil becomes weak). The farmland isn't just for natural earth foods, it is land used for cattle ranching. So, we're tearing down the natural, irreplaceable habitats of animals to kill more animals, and to slowly kill people (via pesticides and pollution), and to damage the earth God gave us to take care of. I'm really not seeing the logic here, except for the money-hungry American CEOs.
Free trade does remarkable damage to the fashion industry. World famous designers, like Anna Sui, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci have gone to China to have their bags made for less money. In turn, because there are no laws that protect the companies designs from being resold from China, the manufacturers can freely reproduce the products in Asia with no penalty. You can easily go to an online auction website such as ioffer.com and buy these replicas directly from the manufacturer. This is great for Americans who want to save hundreds of dollars on fashion, but it is not so good for the upper class and the designers themselves. Fashion is an art, and I see a fake bag as a true crime against art and the artist. What if you had a reproduction Mona Lisa on your wall and claimed it was the real deal? That would not be looked well upon, yet we do it all the time with designer bags. We claim to have a true piece of art, when in fact it is only a reproduction. The artists themselves are affected, financially. A lot of money is lost due to the effects of free trade.
It is easy to conclude from this information that free trade must be stopped before our caskets are lowered into the graves.. The problems that it promotes and causes, are not problems we can stop overnight. But we could greatly help in ending them sooner if we chose not to give our money to corporate America, and instead gave our money to the local community.
libertarian M. Badnarik on free trade? 12.May.2005 09:08

extra credit

The twin tenets of peace and free trade are mutually dependent. As French visionary Frederic Bastiat once said, "If goods don't cross borders, soldiers will." When countries rely upon each other in peaceful commerce, the people of those countries have every incentive to avoid violent conflict. Wars undermine trade like nothing else. The globalization of commerce fell dramatically during World War I, and we didn't see pre-war levels of international trade and cooperation until the 1970s.

Because of the importance of trade, embargos and trade sanctions are often seen as aggression and even acts of war. The punitive embargo on Germany after World War I impoverished the German people terribly, making it impossible for them to meet the demands of the League of Nations that they pay the full cost of the war. This was one of the major grievances the Germans cited in their vengeful desperation as they allowed Hitler to come to power. Trade aggression helped bring about the bloodiest war in world history.

More recently, we have seen the real effects of a trade embargo on Iraq, where hundreds of thousands died of malnutrition from lack of food and medicine. Iraqis were forced to import goods according to the rules set by the United Nations' Oil for Food Program, which we have since learned was utterly corrupt.

Although free trade is a blessing, managed bureaucratic trade is not. It is a dangerous misconception to think of the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and other international quasi-governmental structures as free trade organizations. They rely on thousands of pages of confusing regulations and corrupt agreements between multinational corporations and oppressive governments. True free trade the kind that fosters peace does not depend on such organizations and rules, but is actually hindered by them. Managed trade the kind that fosters resentment and poverty is all that these organizations have so far delivered.

The managed trade that we see today, where politically connected corporations and favored nations get special deals, is anything but free; it is no more and no less than mercantilism, the same economic system that Adam Smith railed against in The Wealth of Nations, when he saw the inefficiency and aggression of imperial governments endowing special privileges to state-sponsored cartels and forbidding those without power to exchange with each other in peace.

Libertarians want to see free trade between individuals, where people become less dependent upon their governments and the WTO and IMF, where instead they become connected in peaceful commerce, where the power and influence of governments and bureaucratic trade agreements diminish to make way for a world in which there are relationships between people, rather than alliances and arm-twisting between states.

Managed trade is typified by President Bush's enormous steel tariff, and, more recently, with the obscenely high 198% tariff on Chinese furniture. Such policies hurt foreign workers and American consumers. They may help domestic industries in the short run, but they encourage irresponsible and inefficient business practices at home. The world economy and American prosperity suffer. Republicans and Democrats say such practices are necessary to prevent "outsourcing," but the reason business leaves the country is that government regulations make it prohibitively expensive for all but the richest companies to compete in America. Another layer of government regulations is not the answer. Indeed, high tariffs in the 1920s helped bring about the Great Depression.

Along with managed trade, we have foreign aid programs that force poor people in rich countries to send their money to rich people in poor countries. It is the poor people in all countries that suffer the most, whether they are taxpayers in the United States or peasants in the Third World who are forced to pay back debts racked up on their behalf and against their will by their own oppressive rulers.

Most protesters of the WTO oppose globalization of trade, but not globalization of government. They want to empower the United Nations and WTO further, so long as it is to advance their own agendas. They have in common with multinational corporations a glorified view of international government, disagreeing only on the specifics. Sometimes they compromise, as we saw in Seattle in 1999, where protesters, environmentalists, corporations, trade unions, and governments all contributed ideas on how the WTO should force its will on the world.

Libertarians understand that government is force. It is coercion and violence. It is not an answer to the world's problems or a way to bring about international friendship. We look forward to a time when state power declines, corporations and special interest groups no longer have an unfair advantage, and individuals are allowed to live and cooperate harmoniously and in peace. Free trade is a necessary component in ushering in a peaceful tomorrow.


The Philosophy of Liberty


Boyd 13.May.2005 10:42

A slippery slope...

The author of the last comment wrote:
"Although free trade is a blessing, managed bureaucratic trade is not."
I believe that may prove to be a slippery slope. The materialistic mindset of modern humanity, generally speaking, tends to lead people into positions where they continually seek more power and control over others. This seems like a basic reality of the world to me. I don't see this trend stopping anytime soon -- although broad social collapse (dieoff.com) may be first step in that direction. The people who have lived in relatively harmony with the world have largely been, and tend to be, destroyed. Unfortunately, when those people learn to defend themselves they often become what they were defending themselves against. I know about the "Pathology of Pacifism" and all that, but I still really don't know what can be done to prevent very unpleasant times until the post-historical age manifests. You could suggest until then that people should deal with others as they would deal with themselves but then look at how people treat themselves. We are all far from pure and the purification process probably won't be much fun.