Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Barry Sheppard & Free Trade

Barry Sheppard--former honcho in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and long-time supporter of the Khmer Rouge--peeks out from under his rock with an article opposing free trade, specifically NAFTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

In this he has good company, including pretty much the entire Democratic Party, which he purports to despise. Other allies include such worthies as Donald Trump, Pat Buchanan, and (sadly) many of my Tea Party friends.

I, on the other hand, support free trade because trade creates wealth, and restrictions on trade create poverty. It doesn't surprise me at all that Mr. Sheppard supports increased poverty, what with him being a socialist and all. There are, by my count, only two reason to oppose trade: rent-seeking and xenophobia. The Teamsters union is a good example of the former, while Misters Trump and Sheppard represent the xenophobic opposition, as I'll describe below.

Unlike Mr. Trump, who is at least an honest xenophobe, Mr. Sheppard hides behind myriad other rationalizations. He'll claim he is in favor of trade, but only under narrow circumstances--conditions so onerous and utopian as to be completely impossible. In this he is worse than Pat Buchanan, who at least supports trade between similar countries (i.e., the US can buy Canadian wheat as long as the Canadians buy American wheat).

Mr. Sheppard is most exercised because of what we American "imperialists" have allegedly done to Mexico. He accuses us of selling cheap corn to Mexico, putting semi-subsistence farmers out of business. Of course every other Mexican can buy corn for cheap--how is this a bad thing? (Mr. Sheppard claims that despite cheap corn, tortilla prices have risen. Somehow I doubt that's true, but even if it is I don't see how it's because of NAFTA.)

So we Americans have been selling corn for cheap--what have we gotten in return? Mr. Sheppard oddly doesn't mention it, but surely cheap auto parts is part of the answer. Tens of thousands of Mexicans got jobs in factories making it possible for Americans to buy better cars at cheaper prices. So that's a real trade: cars for corn. Much better than wheat for wheat, which doesn't accomplish much.

Still, Mr. Sheppard claims that Mexico has somehow gotten the short end of the stick. But the facts don't bear that out. The Council on Foreign Relations (a good, short summary of NAFTA's effects) points out that in 1993 the US ran a trade surplus with Mexico totaling $1.7 billion, morphing into a trade deficit of $61.4 billion in 2012. Further, in direct contradiction of what Mr. Sheppard claims, Mexican farm exports to the US have tripled since NAFTA's implementation.

But, wails Mr. Sheppard, "[b]etween 1995 and 2005, 1.1 million peasants lost their land, and another 1.4 million others dependent of the farm sector were driven out of work." Peasant is just a euphemism for a semi-subsistence farmer, scratching out a $1/day living on a piece of land too small to support mechanization. This is the lifestyle that Mr. Sheppard recommends to Mexicans? Rather odd coming from a man who shops in air-conditioned comfort at someplace like Whole Foods.

Of course we shouldn't be all that surprised. Mr. Sheppard did, after all, support the Khmer Rouge, who took the peasant fetish to completely irrational extremes, forcing all city dwellers into the countryside where they could enjoy the benefits of subsistence farming.

Mr. Sheppard blames us Americans for many imaginary evils, but he fails to ding us for our deserved faults. Among NAFTA's terms is the agreement that truck drivers can deliver goods in all three countries without hindrance. For example, Canadian truckers can carry goods from Canada to their destination in the US, and also from the US back to Canada. (They are not allowed, so I understand, to carry goods strictly within the US.) Judging from the number of Canadian trucks on the interstate near my house, this clause is widely exercised.

However because of the staunch opposition of the Teamster's Union and American trucking companies, such privileges have not yet been extended to Mexican truckers. They are only permitted to carry product a few miles into the US, after which it has to be reloaded onto an American truck. These continued regulations are a direct violation of NAFTA, and have resulted in compensatory tariffs being leveled against us by Mexico. They increase prices for American consumers and needlessly impoverish Mexican truckers.

The Teamsters and their corporate allies, refusing to admit to narrow selfishness, instead claim that Mexican truckers are unsafe. And presumably Mr. Sheppard agrees with them, given that he both opposes NAFTA and is pro-union. Apparently Mexicans are congenitally unsafe, because there is no other reason to make this claim.

So, like Donald Trump, the Teamsters' union, and some trucking companies, Mr. Sheppard thinks it is impossible for Mexicans to drive safe trucks safely in the USA. This is nothing but xenophobia, which brings me back to where we started.

About the TPP, Mr. Sheppard writes
The TPP will further the interests of the rich at the expense of workers and peasants. It will codify new regulations to facilitate more neoliberal changes to the economies of these countries. At the same time, it will further the interests of the imperialist countries involved--which include the U.S., Australia, Canada, Japan, and New Zealand--at the expense of the oppressed nations of Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Capitalists in these latter countries will benefit as junior partners with the imperialists at the expense of their workers and peasants.
Leave aside the odd categorization--where New Zealand is "imperialist" while Singapore is not. The upshot of this is we don't want no Gooks selling crap in the USA. It's a sentiment that Donald Trump certainly agrees with--Mr. Sheppard should give him a call. Beyond this, the principal beneficiaries of free trade are not capitalists, but first consumers (who get cheaper prices), and then workers (who get jobs).

As for me, I'm not a xenophobe. I support free trade.

Down with Poverty!

Further Reading:


  1. "Long-time supporter of the Khmer Rouge?" Documentation, please.

    1. The SWP offered "critical support" to both the Vietcong and the Khmer Rouge for at least two decades up until the fall of Saigon. That means that despite their "criticisms" of those groups, they considered their victory to represent progress for human civilization.

      Mr. Sheppard admits as much in his memoir, which I reviewed here previously.

  2. Your statement implies that he still supports them, which of course he doesn't. The SWP supported the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, which overthrew the Khmer Rouge and restored at least a modicum of a normal life to its suffering people. Your hero Ronald Reagan as well as a lot of other leaders of the "free world" then gave aid to these genocidal maniacs.

    1. Clearly Mr. Sheppard does not today support the Khmer Rouge--impossible since they don't exist anymore. I'll confess to rhetorical flourish, but I don't think my statement is incorrect. Hell, in those days I supported the Khmer Rouge, but at least I have come to regret my opinion. I've heard no such regrets coming from Mr. Sheppard.

      As you point out, life is complicated. But that Vietnam and Cambodia are today at least semi-civilized countries is due in part to the United States.

    2. Not to belabor this, but I remember reading an article in the Christian Science Monitor in March or April 1975, just prior to the Khmer Rouge's takeover of Phnom Penh. speculating that they might implement a sort of "moderate," Yugoslav-style socialism in Cambodia - a laughable proposition in light of their subsequent actions. The point being that nobdody, including some of the most educated Asia scholars, knew what they were up to. So, to criticize the SWP and others for their (purely verbal) "support" for the KR is a cheap shot (in reality The Militant and Intercontinental Press had very little to say about Cambodia or the KR at that time).

      When the full scope of the Khmer Rouge's insane plans for Cambodia became clear, the SWP was quick to condemn them (unlike the usual apologists like the Communist Party or Workers World).

      And what of your hero Reagan? When the Khmer Rouge was kicked out of power, he was quick to supply them with military and diplomatic support (the non-Communist components of the "Cambodian resistance" against the Vietnamese being negligible forces), even though their genocidal record had been written in blood.

      But that's no surprise. The leaders of the "Free World" have never been shy about supporting thugs, criminals and rapists (UNITA in Angola, RENAMO in Mozambique, the Contras in Nicaragua) against governments they don't like, "human rights" be damned.

  3. I recall an article in The Militant shortly after the KR took power. They disowned the killing fields, but blamed the US for the catastrophe. The Khmer Rouge were not responsible, but had been forced into mass murder because of US bombing and napalm.

    You say it's a cheap shot? Yeah, probably. But Mr. Sheppard is still valorizing peasant movements to this very day, apparently having learned nothing. So my aim is not misplaced.

    Can't argue with you about Reagan as I don't know enough about it.