Tag Archives: fair trade

Fair Trade isn’t just about coffee… it’s about American jobs. You can help!

IDEA:

Add conditions to trade agreements that remove the economic advantage enjoyed by countries that don’t meet our mandated standards for minimum wages, worker and product safety, environmental protection, etc.

The Ideas for Change in America competition was created by Change.org in response to Barack Obama’s call for increased citizen involvement in government. The final round of voting began on January 5 and is comprised of the top 3 rated ideas from each of the 30 issues in the first round of the competition, which collectively received more than 250,000 votes.  The idea above was the top rated idea in it’s category and is now in competition with all the other top ideas. See it here: http://www.change.org/ideas/view/replace_free_trade_with_fair_trade

The top 10 rated ideas from the final round will be presented to the Obama administration on January 16th at an event at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, co-hosted by the Case Foundation. At the event we will also announce the launch of a national advocacy campaign behind each idea in collaboration with our nonprofit partners to turn each idea into actual policy.
If you support trade but want Americans to be treated fairly, please read the idea here and then add your vote. http://www.change.org/ideas/view/replace_free_trade_with_fair_trade

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You have an opportunity to place an important vote but you only have one day to do it!

Change.org has solicited ideas to present to the Obama administration on a variety of subjects.  My idea for Fair Trade (my own definition of it) is currently in 1st place and gaining ground, but if you agree with it, it needs your vote.

Here’s where you vote: http://www.change.org/ideas/view/replace_free_trade_with_fair_trade

And here’s why:

My definition of Fair Trade may be a little different from the common one.

To me, trade is fair when nations gain competitive advantage based on quality, productivity, innovation, etc.  Trade is not fair when nations gain competitive advantage by despoiling their environments, enslaving their workers, employing child labor, putting workers into unreasonably dangerous or depraved conditions, opting to not have or not enforce safety regulations and consumer protections, etc.

When we have to compete against nations that don’t care about their environment, their children, their workers, their investors, their consumers, etc.; nations that will do anything to gain competitive advantage, we end up in a global race to the bottom… we race every nation in the world to minimize the costs associated with protecting the environment, keeping workers safe and whole, providing living wages, educating people, making sure there isn’t melamine in the milk, etc.

We shouldn’t be wanting that, while we should always still be welcoming competition based on quality, productivity, innovation, efficiency, etc.

To balance things, there should be a global index that allows all nations to be compared to each other on various dimensions and tariffs should be put in place to compensate for cost advantages achieved by “unfair” or predatory competition.

If you think this through, this would maintain incentives to compete with healthy competition and penalize unhealthy competition.  Economies that implemented and enforced the best worker protections, environmental protections, investor protections, consumer protections, education systems, healthcare systems, etc. would benefit economically because there would be no tarrifs on their exports and lots of tarrifs on their imports.

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Grab a Bucket For Detroit – Part I

Detroit has irritated me as much as anyone over the years.  I tried my best.  I really did.  I bought a Mercury Topaz, then two Saturns, then an Explorer, then a Villager… and by then I couldn’t take it any more and I bought a Nissan Altima.  I love it more than I have ever loved any car.  And shame on Detroit for allowing my level of satisfaction, after five(!) American cars… to drive me into the waiting arms of the Japanese.  Shame on them!

That said, there are a number of reasons why we should loan our auto companies taxpayer money to use for restructuring, retooling, and survival.  I’ll provide some background in this posting and then individual reasons in the next several on this topic.

Those Who Don’t Understand History Are Doomed To Repeat It.  Here’s Some Now.
There was a time in the American capitalist experiment before global trade became what it was today.  Robert Reich describes the era and the logic to it excellently in his book Supercapitalism.  For reason that was rational at the time, more or less of a balance had been achieved wherein competition was much more managed than our Cold War rhetoric would have had us believe.  In the name of mass production, companies had built and supported many of the government regulatory agencies to make barriers to entry steeper and to deliberately limit competition.  They also, grudgingly, supported the growth of unions.

Mass production required accurate forecasting, and accurate forecasting required stability.  Limited, oligopolistic competition, controlled with the assistance of the government, and a generally docile labor force managed by the unions made that possible.   In this era the middle class was created and it thrived.  The disparity between rich and poor was more narrow than before or since.  There was a lot of wealth to go around.  This came at a cost.  This broadly distributed wealth that enabled the middle class to become what it did came at the expense of investor profits, which rarely exceeded 3% to 5% and also at the expense of innovation which, by its nature, diminished stability rather than increased it.

During this era, which Reich calls “The Almost Golden Age” (acknowledging that minorities and women were, for the most part, not invited to the party), where wages for working people became truly meaningful, the 40 hour work week became the norm, and healthcare and pensions became standard corporate benefits, to the benefit of us all.

This pleasant enough stability came to an end with the massive expansion of the Vietnam War.  In order to keep our troops supplied, we developed the modern shipping container and the ports, ships, rail lines, and trucks to get goods and containers to Asia.  Rather than dead head back, the ships would stop off in Japan, pick up a load of generally poor quality merchandise, and sell it here.  This was the beginning of the global economy and global competition.  By the mid 1970’s competition was happening with or without the regulations that had made everybody so comfortable, so we began shedding them, starting actually in the Carter era.  By Ronald Reagan’s 1980’s, de-regulation was in full swing, corporate downsizing reached a fever pitch, innovation and quality skyrocketed, prices (adjusted for inflation and quality) plummeted, and corporate profits exploded.

In short, we as consumers and we as investors benefited enormously from global competition, but millions of us as workers (including white collar workers, by the way) got creamed as cheaper sources of labor were found elsewhere.  And we as citizens got creamed as control and the benefit of the government shifted away from our interests to those of corporations and lobbyists, as the disparity between rich and poor exploded, as our infrastructure spending crashed, etc.  Huge numbers of our industries vanished overseas… steel, textiles, manufacturing, programming, customer service…

During Reich’s “Almost Golden Age” our industrial giants, as part and parcel of the bargain that made the age what it was, took on substantial commitments to their workers.  In the shape of wages, working conditions and healthcare, corporations took on layers of current costs, and in the shape of pensions and retiree healthcare, they took on layers untold of future costs.  Those few companies and industries that have survived so far are now “burdened” with these legacy costs that stem from a balance of power between investors and workers that has long since been lost.

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