Before a Democrat gets in the White House and destroys our economy with protectionist nonsense, more people should stand up and defend NAFTA:
His campaign claims a million jobs have vanished because of the deal. That sounds devastating, but over the last 14 years, the American economy has added a net total of 25 million jobs—some of them, incidentally, attributable to expanded trade with Mexico. When NAFTA took effect in 1994, the unemployment rate was 6.7 percent. Today it's 4.9 percent.
But maybe all the jobs we lost were good ones and all the new ones are minimum-wage positions sweeping out abandoned factories? Actually, no. According to data compiled by Harvard economist Robert Z. Lawrence, the average blue-collar worker's wages and benefits, adjusted for inflation, have risen by 11 percent under NAFTA. Instead of driving pay scales down, it appears to have pulled them up.
Manufacturing employment has declined, but not because we're producing less: Manufacturing output has not only expanded, but has expanded far faster than it did in the decade before NAFTA. The problem is that as productivity rises, we can make more stuff with fewer people. That's not a bad thing. In fact, it's essentially the definition of economic progress.
We're not the only country facing that phenomenon. China makes everything these days, right? But between 1995 and 2002, it lost 15 million manufacturing jobs.
Even if the candidates don't want to acknowledge the gains of the last 14 years, it's hard to see how they can blame NAFTA for economic troubles in Ohio or elsewhere. The whole idea was to eliminate import duties in both the United States and Mexico (as well as Canada). What everyone forgets is that we got the best of that bargain, since our tariffs were very low to begin with.
That central point tends to get overlooked in all the demagoging of NAFTA: It was about lowering barriers, and the net effect was to level the playing field in our favor. If we're going to survive, let alone thrive, in the global economy that no one is going to stop, lowering the barriers as much as possible with as many countries as possible has to be the goal.