Column on NAFTA Blues

Tibor R. Machan
Both Democratic contenders are NAFTA foes. And their complaints aren’t the
valid ones, of which there are plenty–NAFTA is to free trade what mild
arthritis is to good health. But NAFTA is a step in the right direction,
which is to open all the borders and remove all tariffs and duties and
other impediments to the free flow of commerce around the world.
So what’s the fuss all about? Mobility and foresight, that’s what. A free
market requires some measure of willingness to move and to do this in
several respects and one must also prepare oneself to move from profession
to profession, job to job, vocation to vocation, place to place, etc.,
even when this is only a precaution. That is because a free purchasing
public can choose different products and services, from one purchase to
the next (although often people do remain loyal to some vendors, such as
insurance providers, grocery stores, canned chicken soup producers, and so
forth). But no one is required to stay with the same store, be it a
barbershop, car dealer, spa, or drug store. The free market makes possible
the greatest degree of freedom of association. Even in a less than free
market this is mostly the case, especially for employees who are at
liberty to change jobs if a better one comes their way. (Employers are now
severely restricted in our mixed economy regarding whom they may divorce
in the work force! This fact is a severe block to economic health in
Europe and elsewhere.)
A free market, of course, does not guarantee job security–nothing can do
that apart from a gun held to one that coerces one work (as in a labor
camp) and that only for a little while. But because a free market
constantly generates jobs–it promotes economic development which
translates to more and better jobs–no jobs are lost; people do need to be
flexible, adaptable, willing to change, just as they do when they act as
customers in that same market place.
What the two Democratic candidates capitalize on is that a great many
people want to have it both ways–they want their jobs to remain in place
even while they go shopping and change their preferences all the time and
thus cause job mobility. Change and permanence–most people want them both
but at different locations in the market place. As buyers, change is what
most people choose; as employees and even employers, they want permanence
(except when innovations make things easier).
In Ohio, for just one example, there needs to be adjustments made to how
people earn a living because other people, abroad, are now offering
services and goods that compete with what Ohioans have been producing.
This, of course, has also freed many people to create jobs in other parts
of the economy because of their use of the moneys they saved through
buying services and produces at lower prices than before. Even when they
buy from producers abroad, they make jobs here because (a) those producers
abroad buy and invest in the U. S. A. and (b) Americans spend savings on
new products and services which are made in their own country.
Once again the ruse comes from what that genius 19th century French
economists, Claude Frédéric Bastiat observed, namely that the market is
teaming with both, what is seen and what is not seen. People tend mainly
to react to what is seen and forget about the unseen, including when it
comes to the impact of free trade and of the best elements of NAFTA.
And, of course, virtually all politicians, those interested mostly in
obtaining power over other people, will capitalize on this fact. Instead
of educating the citizens about the true nature of a free market, they
take advantage of the misunderstanding about the free market that still
pervades our culture, given how dismal economic education tends to be for
nearly all high school and even college students.
Most members of the media aren’t helping either, since what they like to
focus upon is people’s complaints, not on conveying the facts of
economics. But, as the man said, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance!

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