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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Washington Post Invents Debate Over "Free Trade"

Washington Post Invents Debate Over "Free Trade"

Monday, 23 August 2010 03:40

The Washington Post has a front page article telling readers that the debate over the Korean "free trade" agreement is actually "a dispute over free trade itself." The Korean trade agreement is not in fact a "free trade" agreement. It does not free trade in many areas, for example it does little to reduce barriers to trade for highly paid professional services, like doctors and lawyers' services. The deal also increases some barriers to trade, most notably by increasing copyright and patent protection.

The proponents of the deal use the term "free trade agreement," because "free" has a positive connotation which they hope will help sell the deal politically. They do not use the term because it is true.

Similarly, it is absurd to claim that the United States is having a "dispute over free trade itself." There are no prominent public figures who support free trade. Genuine free trade would eliminate barriers to trade in all goods and services. In areas where these barriers are greatest, like health care, free trade could have an enormous impact in improving living standards and reducing inequality since prices in the United States are so far out of line with prices in the rest of the world.

Instead, the trade agenda of the United States had been about reducing barriers to trade in manufactured goods with the purpose of putting non-college educated workers in direct competition with much lower paid workers in other countries. The predicted and actual result of this policy is to reduce the pay of non-college educated workers, thereby increasing inequality in the United States. This is a policy of one-sided protectionism. It has nothing to do with "free trade."

Comments (9)Add Comment
written by izzatzo, August 23, 2010 8:03
Once there was some trade
For which exchange was free
No cost of entry or exit
By free mo-nop-o-ly

We're free to set you free
With prices that have no vices
Freedom is not free
Unless you pay the prices

Don't raid free trade with commie downgrades
Uphold our honor and pride
Pay our fees, our monopoly prices
Or we'll extract them from your hide
three markets not free markets
written by scott, August 23, 2010 9:05
This is a vital paradigm for understanding the economic shibboleths of the day. The professional market is protected and the monopoly/utility market is unrestrained. The free market is thrown to the wolves, illegal immigration and taxed and hounded relentlessly.
written by Queen of Sheba, August 23, 2010 12:01
The general public seems to be paying more attention to the calls for "free trade agreements" by those who would most benefit from these agreements. And they're also beginning to understand that they are not the ones who will be benefitting from such agreements.

Even the idiots who still believe in "trickle down" economics, and that concentrations of wealth at the top will result in good jobs for the masses, are beginning to see that free trade agreements seem to help workers in developing nations a whole lot more than workers in our own country (although they're not quite sure why).

Older workers who have lost their good-paying jobs to outsourcing (and aren't likely to find another one) are wishing they had paid more attention to Ross Perot and his description of that "giant sucking sound," while younger workers who have been displaced by "insourcing" don't yet understand the connection between free trade agreements and the reason they lost their jobs.

I hope it doesn't take too much longer for all these people to finally awaken from their long slumber.
lawyers finally cast into the wilderness?
written by horndog, August 23, 2010 1:46
the american bar association is now considering whether to accredit foreign law schools and allow foreign students to sit for the US bar exam. are lawyers now being cast into the wilderness by the same corporate interests that encourage immigration of lower paid workers? what's your take, dean?


copyright law--economic history
written by polat guney, August 23, 2010 4:59
Search Eckhard Hoffner for an interesting study on the absence of copyright law in Germany in the 19th c. and the effect on the country's rapid industrial expansion. http://11k2.wordpress.com/2010...-urhebern/
written by adamchaz, August 23, 2010 11:42
Even college level work is being shipped over seas. Consulting firms such as Deloitte are beginning to shift large amounts of work to India.
written by rc whalen, August 24, 2010 7:04
Or as Fritz Hollings said years ago, are you prepared to live on two bowels of rice per day? I think "free trade" is another victim of the financial crisis.
Not until the media themselves feel it
written by Suffern ACE, August 24, 2010 3:50
When some enterprising radio or TV station owner says, "you know, with accent reduction training, I could actually hire someone in India to read the news, report the weather, give sports scores, and mouth off loud opinions and I could pay him 1/100 of the salary of a media star and still profit," the press will continue to lap up the benefits of free trade.
Tiffany Jewelry
written by Tiffany Jewelry, October 14, 2010 12:39
This is frustrating for state legislatures, which have no ability to control the influx of refugees into their state but are tasked with spending state funds to pay for their health care and support when federal payments stop.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.