The Selling of "Free Trade": NAFTA, Washington, and the Subversion of American Democracy
By John R. MacArthur
Hill and Wang, 2000, 388 pp.
Interpreting NAFTA: The Science and Art of Political Analysis
By Frederick W. Mayer
Columbia University Press, 1998, 374 pp.
These are the two major accounts on how NAFTA was agreed to by President Bush, endorsed by President Clinton with modest qualifications, and then approved by Congress. MacArthur is an outraged opponent. Mayer is a supporter who worked with (then) Senator Bill Bradley. MacArthur tells a story of how working people were conned by wealthy elites and their hired salespeople in and out of government. Mayer sees an interesting case for political science -- a kind of Essence of Decision that explains political-economic behavior rather than political-military actions. But in contrast to Essence, Mayer is less interested in organizational behavior and bureaucratic policies. He concentrates instead on how constructivist theory explains the way NAFTA was framed as a symbol to both sides and attending more to the role of domestic interest groups. MacArthur cares about the people -- not only the workers at the Swingline factory closed in New York or the poor inhabitants of colonias in Mexico, but also Washingtonians, who attract his fascinated loathing. Special scorn is reserved for Bill Clinton and Al Gore. But even if MacArthur's premises are right, he does not show that NAFTA was such an undemocratic result. The agreement had formidable political allies like Dan Rostenkowski and Bill Daley, whereas the opponents had to lean on Richard Gephardt and Ross Perot. NAFTA in particular and free trade in general enjoy some broad public support. MacArthur does offer one amusing anecdote, though. In his famous 1993 debate with Ross Perot, Gore cited a textile manufacturer, Norm Cohen, who had said he would move his plant from Mexico back to the United States if NAFTA passed. MacArthur discovered that Cohen did not end up moving the plant. He had not even owned the firm, having sold it years earlier to a company in Japan.