Letter from Langdon: Free Trade’s Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose

Poorly negotiated trade agreements cost American workers their jobs and destabilize the U.S. economy. But multinational corporations come out ahead, so the cost is worth it. Right?

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Readers who keep up with current events know that our front-running presidential candidates have something in common.

Goldman Sachs.

I wasn’t invited to the event where Hillary Clinton collected a $250,000 speaker’s fee from Goldman Sachs. But I don’t know what anyone could say that was worth that amount of money, unless the speaker was Warren Buffet. Likewise, I don’t know how I would justify asking to borrow $1 million dollars from Goldman Sachs to use in a potential run for the White House the way Ted Cruz did.

Bankers are really nice guys who normally want collateral to guarantee a loan. It is worth noting, however, that Hillary got her money up front but Canada-born Ted is on the hook for his. That’s why I hope to learn Ted’s secret before my next refi.

I wonder what he used for collateral?

This is the way life usually goes for most of us. The big guys with their hands out are always the ones to get help. Whether it’s big banker bailouts or regulatory get-out-of-jail-free cards, political loans or speakers fees, the little guy with only his pride and not much else doesn’t stand a chance, especially in the farming game.

Take beef for instance.

We just got our heads handed to us by Canada, a country with fewer residents than California. Canada is bilingual, they haven’t even adopted English as their exclusive primary language, and they don’t have a border fence.

But they have national healthcare better than Obamacare.

That’s just sick.

Yet even while Canadians have their own law for country-of-origin labeling for beef they were able to defeat us in international courts and take away our right to do the same thing. Apparently, they have awfully good lawyers in Canada, eh Ted?

This has played right into the hands of foreign multinational corporations like Brazilian owned JBS and China’s Smithfield Foods, as they blend our food around the world in ways we can no longer see, thanks to corporate hall passes and opaque one-sided trade agreements.

According to free traders, it’s OK for foreign governments to assume control of parts of our food industry (so long as they aren’t stealing from another mega corporation). But what if state and national policy defended the rights of workers, family farmers, and rural communities as well as it has defended those corporations?

Now that JBS controls a big part of the beef-packing industry, they’re having problems and their bonds are almost junk. And China’s slow down has affected stock and bond prices in America because international trade and bank profits are threatened. That’s even as Smithfield tries to tear down more barriers to its business plan by defeating laws in Nebraska that protect family farmers. As usual, no one wants to talk about this, especially not corporate donation-dependent presidential candidates in farmy Iowa.

But in Canada they seem to be doing everything just right — except the oil boom.

How can good news be so bad? Low oil prices have affected the preferred Canadian vegetable, cauliflower, the price of which is up to $8 Canadian. That’s because their currency value has fallen way below the U.S. dollar and their cauliflower comes from California. On the other hand, without country-of-origin labeling (COOL) their beef undercuts our beef to the same tune.

Currency value lets Canadian T-bones — and oil — come across the border at a significantly lower price than those U.S. products. We’ve got the same thing going on with a lot of other trading partners, including China.

Under trade agreements, like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the newest one called Trans Pacific Partnership or TPP, we keep agreeing to do things against the best interests of our own people. Currencies are manipulated, jobs are outsourced, and big corporations hide profits offshore to avoid taxes that average American citizens have no choice but to pay.

Studies of TPP are mixed, but most agree it will be years at best before Americans see an advantage. In the meantime, jobs will shift or disappear altogether, factories will close, and a significant number of U.S. workers will be destabilized as they seek new jobs wherever they can find them. That’s the same scenario played out across the country in the past as our leaders hailed the new service economy and its low paying McJobs as corporate manufacturers expanded third-world sweat-shops making all the things Americans used to make.

Agriculture and many farm groups chase these trade agreement jalopies like a delinquent dog off his leash. All they want to talk about is exports. But the fact is our biggest customer is right here at home. Trade agreements allow more foreign access to U.S. food markets than they grant new markets to U.S. farmers. We’re always subject to quotas, manipulated monetary values, and restrictive policies built into trade agreements.

And since food demand is inelastic (finite numbers of people only eat when they’re hungry), food sales lost today are never made up.

When worse trends toward worst, though we may weather the storms of unfair free trade and our economy does well, our stock market goes to pot taking a lot of retirement savings and equity with it when free-trade partners fall apart.

This I know for sure: An undeniable fact of weathering storms is that when cold winds blow, everyone wants in. The caulking gun and I have been around the outside of this old farm house more than once. In spite of that, come January a few field mice along with the occasional cat or dog sneak by. What with all the hunger and poverty in the world, when global markets crash, it’s that way with people too.

Baby, thanks to corporate-promoted and dominated free trade, it’s cold outside.

Part of the political talk going on now is about a fence to keep the field mice (also known as illegal immigrants) out of our national home. But even with illegal immigrants, our economy has managed to improve because immigrant mice put more into the pantry than they take. Anyhow, that fence won’t happen because it’s not like big business or big agriculture (fruit and vegetable production, meat packers, dairies, field workers, the guys who clean Wal-Mart, etc.) want to close the holes.

Immigration never trashed the economy in the first place, and big business needs it like corn needs the rain.

Those people come because they’re willing to work long hours on the cheap, and corporate board rooms want them here. That’s why U.S. trade policy does little or nothing to defend family farmers and laborers who earn less in a year than the typical corporate political contribution — or speaker’s fee.

Corporate board rooms want that too.

But what if our country allowed immigration and jobs here at our home to grow by not giving away our production and manufacturing advantage in the form of unequal corporate taxation, trade agreements, human rights, and currency manipulation? And what if all those workers who came here to punch up the work force, punched a time card instead and were legal, subject to open wage competition, and paid taxes including Social Security on their earnings? And what if a certain percentage of citizen workers weren’t forced to start over every decade due to corporate outsourcing, relocating and start over with buying a house, saving for retirement, and paying for healthcare?

One last thing. What if all of them, and their elected government representatives, too, believed in buying labeled American products they made themselves?

If Ted came out in favor of that, I might loan him a buck or two myself.

Richard Oswald, president the Missouri Farmers Union, is a fifth-generation farmer from Langdon, Missouri. “Letter From Langdon” is a regular feature of The Daily Yonder.

 

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