The Selling of ""Free Trade"": NAFTA, Washington, and the Subversion of American Democracy

John R. MacArthur, Jr., Author
John R. MacArthur, Jr., Author Hill & Wang $25 (368p) ISBN 978-0-8090-8531-6
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
Paperback - 400 pages - 978-0-520-23178-8
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Though the political machinations behind the North American Free Trade Agreement may not automatically quicken the pulse, longtime Harper's publisher MacArthur has worked the story into a spirited and engrossing case study of low-wage American workers brazenly sacrificed for a corporate-sponsored ""turbo capitalism."" Engineered by big business lobbyists and carried out in the national media by pitchman extraordinaire Lee Iacocca, the push for NAFTA, in MacArthur's opinion, offers a view ""deep into the heart of political mendacity and collusion as it is practiced in Washington."" Using the controversial closure of New York City's Swingline staple plant as a touchstone for the more abstract ""intellectual trade wars"" to follow, MacArthur examines the campaign waged by a Democratic coalition battling Ross Perot's famous sound bite on the loss of NAFTA-related jobs: ""There will be a giant sucking sound going south."" The book makes for grimly hilarious reading as it chronicles the intense saga of NAFTA's eventual ratification, notably when describing the elaborate process of vote buying embarked upon by pro-NAFTA forces. In one case, as MacArthur reports it, Rep. Bill Brewster, an Oklahoma Democrat on the board of the National Rifle Association, surrendered his vote via cell phone in exchange for a duck-hunting date with President Clinton. Throughout, MacArthur keeps his eye on the immigrant factory workers who ultimately pay NAFTA's price, and reports on the desultory border culture of maquiladora factories such as the brand-new Swingline plant in Nogales. The ultimate effects of NAFTA may still be debatable, but MacArthur's conclusion seems beyond dispute: ""It's politics, stupid."" (Apr.)
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