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Noam Chomsky

[Note: Professor Chomsky was kind enough to provide some thoughtful feedback on the post via e-mail. I publish his comments here with his permission -- Craig]

Thanks very much for your kind and encouraging words, much appreciated. I did have a few thoughts.

First, I don't condemn the globalization of commerce or free trade. My reaction to them is rather like Gandhi's response when he was asked what he thought about Western civilization. He's supposed to have answered that "it might be a good idea." The concept of "trade" has become highly ideological. Properly, we didn't call it "trade" when the Kremlin produced parts in Lenningrad, sent them to Poland for assembly, and then to Moscow to sell. It crossed borders, but wasn't trade in any meaningful sense; rather, interactions within a command economy. We do call it "trade" when a corporation -- a command economy -- produces parts in Indiana, sends them to Mexico for assembly, and then to California to sell. There's no real difference. Since corporations are pretty much unaccountable, economists don't know the scale of these operations, but usual estimates are in the range of 40%. Same with "free trade". The only correct phrase in "North American free trade agreement" is "North American." It certainly wasn't an agreement: the population in the U.S. and Canada was opposed, and though Mexico didn't have reliable polls, that seems to have been true there as well. And it was only very partially about "free trade." Tariffs were already very low, the "trade agreements" have extreme protectionist measures going beyond any historical precedent (e.g. TRIPS in the Uruguay round) and other measures that have nothing to do with trade and everything to do with what economists call "kicking away the ladder" -- depriving the poor country of the measures that the rich used to develop (e.g. TRIMS, but much beyond). That aside, the U.S. can't really enter into a "free trade agreement" because the economy relies so heavily on the dynamic state sector to socialize cost and risk: for example, what we are now using, computers and the internet, mostly in the state sector for about 30 years, in each case. And a great deal more.

As for NAFTA, the extensive reviews at the time of the Summit of the Americas in 2002 concluded that it is one of those rare agreements that harmed working people in all three countries (HRW, Economic Policy Institute). There's substantial evidence for that, I think. It also in part lies behind the current passion about immigration. Clinton knew what he was doing when he militarized the border for the first time (Operation Gatekeeper) when NAFTA came into effect in 1994.

I also think we should keep away from the term "anti-American." Europeans overwhelmingly like Americans, enjoy and appreciate American culture, have wedding parties at McDonald's, etc. They oppose state policy. But that makes them "anti-American" only if we identify state power with the country, the society, the culture, the people. That's done only in totalitarian societies. No one would be called "anti-Italian" if he criticized Berlusconi. As far as I know, "anti-American" (or "un-American" or "hate America", etc.) is about the only exception, tacitly adopting totalitarian assumptions.

My only quibbles.

Noam Chomsky

Craig Maginness

I want to thank Professor Chomsky for his thoughtful comments.

I particularly appreciate his distinction between "anti-American" and "anti-American government policy". Happily, as Professor Chomsky notes, Americans as people are viewed fairly favorably around the world. It does seem, however, that concern with some of our governemnt's polices has created a somewhat steeper hill to climb in establishing a mutuality of trust while each party feels out where the other stands relative to those policies.

I would invite others to comment on whether intra-corporate transfers constitute "trade", and whether NAFTA and other similar pacts constitute "free trade agreements" in any meaningful way, as well as whether they have been a success in achieving benefit for the participating countries.


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