Magazine | December 18, 2017, Issue


What Does NAFTA Do?

Kevin D. Williamson’s fulsome praise of NAFTA (“What NAFTA Does,” November 13) notwithstanding, the primary goal of NAFTA is to provide American manufacturers with unfettered access to low-cost Mexican labor. The “continental supply chain” engendered by NAFTA allows parts and subassemblies to be shipped to Mexico duty-free, where they can be assembled into finished products by workers making $2.50 per hour. This is the “Free Trade” part of the agreement; if tariffs were imposed on incoming or outgoing goods, the low-wage advantage would be negated and the manufacturers would set up shop elsewhere.

A handful of overproducing American farmers have benefited from NAFTA because, as the theory of comparative advantage would predict, Mexican farmers have been persuaded (i.e., forced) to give up their farmlands and become factory workers, thereby depriving Mexico of the ability to feed itself and making it necessary to import food. The value of the agricultural products the U.S. exports to Mexico pales in comparison with that of the manufactured products, which are essentially American, exported by Mexico to the U.S.

It would be great if the American manufacturing jobs lost to low-wage Mexico could be replaced by high-paying “service” jobs here in the U.S., but that is not a realistic possibility.

I doubt that Donald Trump or anyone on his economic team thinks that America’s trade deficit with Mexico is comparable to the national debt or some other deficit that can be eliminated only with cold, hard cash. The trade deficit is just a convenient metric for quantifying the difference in value between goods exported and goods imported, and eliminating our trade deficit with Mexico would mean that the value of goods exported by the U.S. would be equal to or greater than the value of goods imported from Mexico.

I don’t know whether NAFTA is the “worst deal ever made,” but it is fair to say that, in exchange for millions of jobs that would pay $20 per hour in the U.S., we have gotten marginally less costly cars, a relatively small market for some farm produce that the U.S. does not need, and an unlimited supply of reasonably priced all-season avocados.

Doug Grant

Muskego, Wis.

Kevin D. Williamson responds: I thank you for the letter. A few thoughts: 1) “Overproduction” is an ancient progressive superstition; American farmers do not “overproduce,” but rather produce with extraordinary efficiency to meet demand for American farm products around the world. 2) There is no meaningful sense in which manufactured goods are “essentially American,” but, if there were, the implied trade-off between farm exports and manufactured imports would still be a fiction, inasmuch as no such trade-off actually exists: Farm exports respond to demand, just as manufactured imports do. 3) The claim that replacing manufacturing jobs (which have been lost mainly to automation, not to Mexican competition) with high-paying service jobs “is not a realistic possibility” is simply contradicted by the facts: Wages have risen as manufacturing’s share of employment has declined and the services sector has expanded. As it turns out, those health-care and financial-services jobs pay on average better than it paid to turn a wrench in a GM factory in 1955. That fact is obvious to anybody who is willing to look around and see that our standard of living is radically higher today than it was even 20 years ago. If you want an eye-opening experience, open your eyes.

NR Editors includes members of the editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

In This Issue



Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

Rise to Global Power

Robert Merry sets out to revive William McKinley’s middling reputation by recognizing the 25th president as the shrewd, unheralded father of the military-commercial expansionism that underwrote America’s global ...




What Does NAFTA Do? Kevin D. Williamson’s fulsome praise of NAFTA (“What NAFTA Does,” November 13) notwithstanding, the primary goal of NAFTA is to provide American manufacturers with unfettered access to ...
The Week

The Week

‐ “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggone it, women want me to feel them up while they’re sleeping on airplanes.” ‐ Roy Moore, Republican candidate in a special election ...


THE ‘F’ WORD My mother would withhold from me most news, Because my constant questions — like a plague Of locusts — flew at her, till she would lose Her patience, as I lost ...
Happy Warrior

The Bed Menace

‘Opinion: If you let boys be boys, they will murder their fathers and sleep with their mothers,” ran a tweet from the New York Times the other day.

Most Popular

White House

The Trivialization of Impeachment

We have a serious governance problem. Our system is based on separation of powers, because liberty depends on preventing any component of the state from accumulating too much authority -- that’s how tyrants are born. For the system to work, the components have to be able to check each other: The federal and ... Read More

‘Texodus’ Bodes Badly for Republicans

‘I am a classically trained engineer," says Representative Will Hurd, a Texas Republican, "and I firmly believe in regression to the mean." Applying a concept from statistics to the randomness of today's politics is problematic. In any case, Hurd, 42, is not waiting for the regression of our politics from the ... Read More

Feminists Have Turned on Pornography

Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the feminist movement has sought to condemn traditional sexual ethics as repressive, misogynistic, and intolerant. As the 2010s come to a close, it might be fair to say that mainstream culture has reached the logical endpoint of this philosophy. Whereas older Americans ... Read More

Not Less Religion, Just Different Religion

The Pew Poll tells us that society is secularizing -- particularly among the young -- and who can deny it? That is one reason that the free expression of religion is under such intense pressure in the West. But it seems to me that we aren't really becoming less religious. Rather, many are merely changing that ... Read More

In Defense of Tulsi

Some years ago, a liberal-minded friend of mine complained during lunch that Fox News was “stealing” his elderly parents. “They should be enjoying retirement,” he said, noting that they live in a modest but comfortable style with attentive children and grandchildren to enjoy. “But instead,” he sighed, ... Read More