Last night, the magazine The Hill posts current notes on items of immediate concern. Today, sometime, Pres Obama is to sign the Free Trade bill and send more factories, more jobs overseas.
This agreement is with S. Korea, Panama, and Columbia. The idea has a lofty sound, but has been a disaster. I believe there are major omissions in all our “free trade” agreements
None of the Free Trade Acts, starting with Clinton’s NAFTA, have had any clause requiring the features that make U.S. goods specially safe. No OSHA requirements, no EPA, no FDA, no real quality assurance, no minimum wage. The items we get back are as cheap as physically possible to make, and may be just short of outright murder weapons in consumer danger.
America has moved toward a boss’s heaven. Think. We can shift our factories to one of these countries and close down our U.S. versions. Then ship in items produced by near serf labor. So what if field hands work in insecticide plumes from the planes buzzing overhead? Not our problem! So what if cheaper pharmaceuticals and processes are substituted for the original items? The origin country does not care about such issues; we have no say in the matter.
This is a travesty, likely to reduce most of our population (below median income) to poverty. The U.S. median family income (the income where 50% of the U.S. families earn below this value) dropped again and is now a bit less than $50,000. It is interesting that Note that most who make $200,000 in this country call themselves Middle Class. What does”middle” mean here? What would they call the 50/50 break point in income? $250,000 is a nice round average salary for the leaders of struggling not-for-profit organizations. 70 or so years ago, company owners made 5× median. Now it is lowly 501(c) presidents that do. Note, the $50 thousand value is for family incomes, not individual ones.
Without reciprocal controls over the making process, we cannot assure that our people’s interest will be protected. This is almost certainly what Clinton, Bush and Obama had/have in mind.
Here is my experience from the last decade. About 6 years ago, I was working with an independent sales company in Michigan. We visited the Eaton plant in Saginaw, MI, (Saginaw was one of the main dynamos of U.S. manufacturing after WW-II). That day, Eaton was moving to Mexico. I met a line engineer as she trained her replacement on her own line. Her program was being dismantled and moved out; it would soon be his. Eaton told the engineer she would loose all unemployment benefits if she did not train her Mexican replacement. Do you feel her pain here? Or, do you side with her MBA boss? Maybe this was all her fault for getting too high a wage? Eaton has long gone from Saginaw, but they did not leave because of the wage structure. Mexico does not have the protections on health, safety, and environment that American plants benefited from. Even so Mexico may be one of the better countries. Heaven be on your side if you work in Bolivia, or Bulgaria. What about Panama and Columbia?
The LastTechAge is focused on our loss of technical competence over the past decades. Although free trade agreements are not overtly technical issues, if we do not have the manufacturing plants, we can not have the engineering support that goes with each one. If we do not have the engineering, we cannot come up with the next generation of spectacular inventions, because the inspiration for that comes from focusing on manufacturing innovation. The more we “outsource” and award business school grads with top executive jobs, the less we control and direct (in an engineering sense) with the changes in the products being invented.
We are in a downward innovation spiral and one of the forcing factors are the Free Trade Agreements. To stop this, someone in Congress must get a law passed that no one may import into the U.S. unless they demonstrate that they follow U.S. standards. Such an act alone would do much for our competitiveness but it would need legal teeth.
Today, October 21, is another dark day in the downward motion toward a future we need not have faced.
Charles J. Armentrout, Ann Arbor
2011 Oct 20
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