BILL MOYERS: Just a week ago the Bush administration
and the new Democratic leaders in Congress announced they had made
a big breakthrough: a new bi-partisan trade agreement. Billed as an
"important first step" -
SPEAKER PELOSI: It is progress - it is historic
- we have to know make it work for America's working families...
BILL MOYERS: The President gets the 'free trade'
he wants for wall street, Democrats get the 'fair trade' they want
for main street...namely, some protection for workers whose jobs are
being shipped overseas...and protection for the environment that is
often trampled by the trade winds of capitalism.
Sounds like a win-win, right?
Certainly does if you consult the pundits.
Columnist David Broder in the WASHINGTON POST...
Fareed Zakaria in NEWSWEEK.
The WALL STREET JOURNAL...THE NEW YORK TIMES...among
others...all praising the agreement.
But hold on. All they know is what they've been
told. The negotiation of this deal was secret. Its official language
has still not been made public.
Skeptical Democrats - like Steve Kagen - who had
not been in the negotiations want to know why, if there were strong
protections for workers and the environment why were groups like the
National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable
and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce actually speaking well of the deal.
Here with the backstory is John R. MacArthur, president
and publisher of Harper's magazine, one of the country's oldest and
most honored publications. He wrote this book...second front: censorship
and propaganda in the gulf war, back in 1992. His second book is called:
"The Selling of 'Free Trade'."
BILL MOYERS: Welcome to The Journal. What telling
details caught your eye as you followed the story this week?
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: Well, the main thing to know
is that this is an initiative, as far as I can tell from my own reporting,
from the leadership of the House, which is-- Nancy Pelosi and Charlie
Rangel, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. And this
is like the-- NAFTA campaign of the '90s, an attempt by the Democratic
leadership-- in those days it was the Clintons -- to raise money from
Wall Street. They're trying to compete head to head with the Republicans
in their own pool.
BILL MOYERS: Why now? What's the advantage of acting
on this at this very moment? What do you see as the strategy?
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: It's simply because we've got
a big election coming up.
BILL MOYERS: Well, not for--
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: They're gearing up for 2008.
And Rangel has got to beat the Bushes for money. He's gotta shake
down the bankers and the private equity people. And he's gotta have
something to show to them.
BILL MOYERS: But there has been a deadlock on trade
for some years now. There has been great disaffection with NAFTA,
what's happened in Mexico, the number of jobs lost in this country.
And the Republicans haven't wanted to give on these issues of labor
standards and environmental standards. Could this possibly be a breakthrough?
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: No, because it's just like the
NAFTA side agreements in the '90s. They guaranteed all sorts of things
in the side agreements: labor rights, environmental protection in
Mexico. And none of it got done. Virtually none of it got done. Now,
in these agreements, they're saying that these countries are suddenly
going to start respecting labor rights. That countries like Peru,
which can only survive by selling us their cheap labor. In other words,
that's all they've got-- are going to raise their labor standards
that would kill the very justification for set-- for setting up a
factory in Peru. It's the same thing in Mexico. It's the same thing
BILL MOYERS: How do you explain that so many people
embrace this so heartily so quickly?
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: Well, the people who embraced
it: the media, the pundits, the elites-- the heads of-- banks and
of investment banks, and the leadership of the two parties. That's
not the people. The people are sold this-- idea of free trade over
and over again, as though it were good for them. I mean, what do we
have to cite? The statistics speak for themselves. More than half
a million jobs officially lost because of NAFTA. The other thing to
remember, of course, is that it's not just the brokerages and the
financial business. It's the retail and restaurant industry likes
it. Wal-Mart and Wall Street are now allied in this unholy pro-free
BILL MOYERS: How so? Why Wall Street and Wal-Mart?
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: Because Wal-Mart has dedicated
factories in China manufacturing at the cheapest possible rate. People
working for 15, 20, 25 cents an hour, making stuff to sell in Wal-Marts
in the United States. Generally speaking, they want the cheapest labor
possible making-- goods at the cheapest possible rates so that they
can buy them cheaply and sell them more cheaply. In exchange, we get
$8.00, $9.00 an hour jobs at Wal-Mart. That's what the people are
BILL MOYERS: Why do you subtitle The Selling of
Free Trade "NAFTA, Washington, and the Subversion of American
Democracy"? That's very strong.
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: Under the current rules, there
is something called fast track. Unlike every other kind of bill that
goes through Congress or treaty that goes through Congress, fast track
authority means that Congress tells the president they can negotiate
a trade treaty-- and then return it to Congress for an up or down
vote with no amendments, no amendments allowed. So the minute Congress
authorizes up or down on not a very good treaty or one that they're
not entirely happy with. They get a lot of pressure from the leadership
of the party-- from manufacturing, from the big money people.
BILL MOYERS: But trade is good. Trade fuels the
economy. It also brings-- creates job in this-- trade is good. If
you've got the-- labor standards, if you've got the portable pensions,
if you've got the health insurance, if you've got the things that
the social Democrats want, wouldn't this problem be fixed?
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: Well, trade between countries
that are roughly equal in income and prosperity like Canada and the
United States, that's very healthy because then you trade this stuff
that other guy doesn't have. But that's not the point of these agreements.
The point of these agreements is to allow American corporations to
operate as cheaply as possible in foreign countries and to protect
them against expropriation, against seizure of assets.
BILL MOYERS: But maybe this is one of those great
realignments in American politics in which the Democratic Party, because
money does drive the system now-- is going far from its roots, right?
Already in Washington this week, the Democratic Leadership Council,
the centrists or corporate Democrats are blaming people like you of
being Lou Dobbs Democrats, right?
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: Right. Right.
BILL MOYERS: Populist, neo-populist-- social Democrats.
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: Meanwhile, the Clinton wing
of the party is in the ascendancy. Let's not forget Hillary Clinton
was on the board of Wal-Mart for six years when her husband was governor
of Arkansas. She is now making some symbolic anti-Wal-Mart gestures.
But at heart, she's very much allied with the retail lobby. Just to
give you a sense of how powerful Wal-Mart has become, Fritz Hollings
BILL MOYERS: Former senator from--
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: Senator from South Carolina.
BILL MOYERS: Democrat.
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: --anti-free trader-- told me
not long ago that when he introduced a port security bill after 9/11--
which would have put a $15 surcharge on every container that comes
into an American port to pay for extra security, Wal-Mart and the
retail lobby killed it. That's why we don't have a port security system
because they don't wanna pay the extra $15 a container. That's how
powerful they've become. Even--
BILL MOYERS: Because they want cheap prices for
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: Because they want cheap prices
for the consumer.
BILL MOYERS: They want to right.
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: Right.
BILL MOYERS: And the American citizen wants cheap
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: Well, that's the way they put
it. But what they really want to do is make more money for Wal-Mart
and make Wall Street happy. So one of the things that's great about
manufacturing in China is that you cannot form a union that's independent
of the government union, the Communist Party controlled union. Wal-Mart
loves that. They have dedicated factories in China that manufacture
exclusively for Wal-Mart.
BILL MOYERS: But globalization is here. The free
movement of money, the free movement of ideas, the free movement of
goods. You can't reverse that, can you?
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: You could if you slapped tariffs
on certain imports. "Tariff," the word "tariff"
has become a dirty word in this country. A protective tariff aimed
at protecting certain industries, certain groups of people is perfectly
all right. The Japanese do it. The Japanese have one of the highest
standards of living in the world, one of the best healthcare systems.
They have the highest tariffs of industrialized, among unindustrialized
nations. They protect their home market against cheap imports.
BILL MOYERS: How do you explain that Pat Buchanan
seems more pro-worker than the Democrats do today?
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: Because Pat Buchanan is an economic
nationalist. He believes that America should prosper ahead of any--
of airy-fairy liberal-- international scheme to enrich the world.
BILL MOYERS: Are you also an economic nationalist?
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: I've become more of one because
- not in the Buchanan sense - because more and more I realize that
every time somebody says, "We're helping the poor" or "We're
helping the foreigners" or "the poor foreigners," what
they really mean is, "We're going to exploit the hell out of
them. This is a way we're going to lock in cheap labor in any country
you can think of and exploit them." And it's a union killing
movement in the United States. You cannot form an union in the United
States anymore without risking your plant being closed, sent overseas,
or other kinds of intimidation. That's why union membership and private
union membership has now fallen to eight percent of the workforce.
As an American, as a citizen, I don't want to see the big money keep
winning the way it's been winning over and over and over again. I
also want to see a democratic debate restored on this absolutely crucial
issue. Fast track, if it passes, kills the possibility of a democratic
debate because then it's in the hands of the executive.
BILL MOYERS: Fast track will be coming up in a
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: It'll be coming up.
BILL MOYERS: I mean, this story's only begun last
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: Right, right.
BILL MOYERS: It's just in the first stages.
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: Right.
BILL MOYERS: So this debate will be going on for
some time, right?
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: Precisely. And the Democrats
have an incentive to drag it out--
BILL MOYERS: Why?
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: --because they don't want to
have their caucus split. The Democrats have people like Sherrod Brown
who are elected to the Senate in Ohio on an anti-free trade platform.
Ohio's been absolutely devastated by free trade. There are factories
leaving Ohio almost every week, significant plant closures every week
because of NAFTA.
What is Sherrod Brown gonna go back to his constituents
and say if fast track gets passed with some symbolic gestures towards
labor rights that can't be enforced in these foreign countries anyway?
He's going to be between a rock and a hard place.
BILL MOYERS: What is the strategy of doing this?
You think it is about contributions between now and 2000-- the campaign--
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: Yes. They're trying to string
it out so they can raise as much money from Wall Street as possible
and then hope that the issue goes away or that it gets voted on after
the 2008 election. We, as citizens, have got to stop it before it
gets to that point. We have to say to the Congress, "We're not
gonna let you do another NAFTA. We're not going to let you do another
PNTR. We're going to be involved in this debate as citizens, and we're
gonna restore democracy to this debate." And if it requires action
in the street like there was in Seattle in 1999, maybe that's what's
going to happen. If it requires a split in the Democratic Party--
maybe that's what's gonna have to happen. But the way it's been going,
the jobs just keep going out. Median income in this country has fallen
$10 in constant dollars from 2002 until last year. $10.** Not huge
but people are feeling it and they're panicked.
BILL MOYERS: The book is The Selling of Free Trade:
NAFTA, Washington, and the Subversion of American Democracy. Rick
MacArthur is the publisher of Harper's. Thank you for joining us on
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: Thank you.