The congressional vote on normalizing trade relations with China isbeing cursed and celebrated. Is the trade deal good for the Americaneconomy? Yes. Economic strength is improved by trading with countriesall over the world. Is the trade deal good for the American worker? Theargument can be made (and many have made it) that anything that helpsthe American economy overall benefits the U.S. worker. However, theargument can also be made (and many have made it) that greater access toworld markets includes greater access to cheaper labor, which in turncosts the American worker.
No one knows which outcome will dominate and it's likely that thingswill pretty much stay on the course they're already on -- one whichimproves the economy yet erodes the living standards of averageAmericans.
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President Clinton's campaign for normal trade relations with China,did not, however, focus on the economic side of the debate. His emphasiswas on the political side of the debate -- the extent to which advancinga global market economy advances democracy in repressive societies.What's notable about this political debate is that it focusesexclusively on how the introduction and expansion of market economiesaccelerates the growth of democracy in underdeveloped authoritariancountries, while ignoring that democratic process is on the decline inthe United States.
It's true that in absolute terms America is significantly moredemocratic than China. But while free trade may have put democratizationon an upward curve in the People's Republic, it is on a downward curvein America. Democracy is declining here, where over half the electoratedoesn't vote, the incumbency return rate for elected officials is higherthan in the Chinese Politburo, public policy debate is heavilycontrolled by the two parties and special interest money runs the show.
It's probably the case that early stages of a market economy doproduce greater democracy. When market forces come to bear in anoppressive society, it gives ordinary citizens more involvement indecision making because they are participating in the market. But inmore economically developed societies with more democratic traditionsthere comes a point when the oligarchy -- whatever form that happens totake -- starts to constrain democracy because it wants to restrict theextent to which competing forces in the society can make corporateAmerica accountable to the people.
Right now, Bill Clinton and Tom DeLay -- not to mention Al Gore andGeorge Bush -- can have it both ways. They can fight for democracy inChina while they repress it in the United States. For liberals, leftistsand labor -- most of whom are in the Democratic Party -- this should bea hard pill to swallow. They, after all, spent twenty years accusingRonald Reagan of being a veritable storm trooper for unbridledcapitalism, only to find out that capitalism's greatest hero is theirown Bill Clinton.
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Harlem Congressman Charles Rangel -- who had opposed the White Houseon NAFTA -- voted with the Clinton administration on China and took sixother members of the congressional Black Caucus with him. Rangel nowdescribes himself as "a New York guy going national," according to theWall Street Journal. I am a friend and supporter of Charlie Rangel andhe has come to my aid on more than one occasion, but in my community"going national" is often interpreted as "going white" -- becoming morepragmatic and accepting of a corporate agenda.
Rangel believes in pragmatism -- the need to "play ball" with the bigmoney interests -- and he's right, if you're going to play the pragmaticpolitics game. I, for one, don't like that game. That's why I am anindependent and why I think Black people should get their butts out ofthe Democratic Party. We lose by playing that game -- just as Americanslose overall by playing the two party special interest game. That's whyso many Americans are becoming independents.
Organized labor seems to be paying more attention to the fact that ithas been abandoned by the Democratic Party than Black America is. Thereis talk about defections -- by the United Auto Workers and the Teamsters-- to support independent presidential candidates Ralph Nader or PatBuchanan. This is a healthy thing, though I am one of those people whobelieve the Democratic Party sold out the labor movement -- not lastThursday -- but in 1947 when Taft-Hartley was enacted, restricting theright to organize and to strike.
The Left, meanwhile, is in a heightened state of agony over whetheror not to support the Democrats. The left-wing New Republic's John Judisaccused Green Party candidate Ralph Nader -- who is focusing his attackson Al Gore -- of talking like a leftist. I thought that was a goodthing! My problem is when leftists talk like Democratic Party hacks,which they often do.
I personally think it's positive that the U.S. government normalizedtrade relations with China. The much tougher issue is whether it's goingto normalize -- i.e., democratize -- political relations with all of us.That fight -- the battle for political reform of our own electoral andgovernmental process -- is something that the people of this republicare going to have to do for ourselves.