The Sword in the Stone

"The call for free trade is as unavailing as the cry of a spoiled child for the moon. It never has existed; it never will exist."
—Henry Clay

During the closing days of the 1993 congressional debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), 300 of the nation's leading economists, including two Nobel Laureates, released a joint letter that urged the pact's immediate ratification. Subsequently, a reporter for a national radio network contacted 150 of these economists and asked them two simple questions; Why do you support this agreement? Have you read the 1,000-page agreement you endorsed? All answered that they supported free trade and open markets. Only one of the nine claimed to have read the NAFTA agreement.

I doubt that few, if any, equally distinguished lawyers would endorse a contract without reviewing it, or that any reputable accountant would approve a company's books without first checking them. So, why would some of America's leading economists urge ratification of an economic pact that they had not even read? The answer, of course, is that most of them are doctrinaire free traders. So too are most of America's political and opinion elite. To label a prospective international agreement as free trade, regardless of what is in the pact, virtually guarantees an influential base of political support. Cant has replaced thought.


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