In the Democratic presidential primaries NAFTA became a dirty word. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama vied to out-diss the trade agreement and gain the votes of disenchanted (and often unemployed) workers in blue-collar parts of the country.
The collapse of immigration reform legislation is best understood not as a failure of short-term political leadership, but rather as an inevitable long-term consequence of NAFTA. NAFTA’s architects believed that as goods and services began to flow in unprecedented volume throughout the world’s largest free market, low-wage labor would remain largely fixed.Unfortunately, the unleashed forces of the free market uprooted longstanding social and economic arrangements in Mexico and caused the already meager economic opportunities, especially in the rural parts of the country, to evaporate. Millions of Mexican people—the bearers of cheap labor—were compelled to seek out their most rational reallocation.
The outsourcing of U.S. jobs overseas, the subject of much discussion in this year’s presidential campaign, is part of an economic movement that promises a better life—indeed, a new beginning—for many people in developing countries. It gives technologically savvy young people in countries like India livelihoods that move them into the ranks of the middle class.