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The Selling of Free Trade

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The Selling of Free Trade

Nafta, Washington, and the Subversion of American Democracy

Hill and Wang,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Business leaders pay attention: Here’s an unabashed, eloquent and intelligent explanation of why so many people oppose globalization, free trade and NAFTA.

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Editorial Rating



  • Controversial
  • Analytical
  • Background


John MacArthur, editor of Harper’s Magazine, is a persistent, resourceful and thorough reporter with an unapologetic opinion about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). MacArthur makes no attempt to disguise his disdain for the trade pact, which he describes as a measure designed to institutionalize US exploitation of Mexican workers, or for the politicians, businessmen and lobbyists who supported it. In researching this book, MacArthur interviewed many of the key national and international players who helped create NAFTA and found rare interviews with others. He illustrates the debate by presenting an analysis of NAFTA’s impact on workers at a US factory and on the Mexicans who replace them. Ironically, he paints such an effective portrait of the inner workings of the Mexican maquiladoras factories that US business leaders reading this book might be further enticed to relocate. The finest features of the book are its exhaustive treatment of the law-making process and its lucid judgment of the Washington establishment. getAbstract recommends this book to students of politics or international trade, business leaders interested in gaining insight into the antiglobalization movement, and anyone seeking to pass a bill in Congress.


NAFTA: A Story of Staples

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1993 was presented to the public in almost messianic terms. In rhetoric like that of the old Soviet Marxists, leaders and industrialists proclaimed that “economic forces” and “free trade” were creating unprecedented prosperity that was transforming the world. During debate on NAFTA, politicians and economist informed the public that there might be pain for a few in the short term, but in the long run, the US economy would gain more than it would lose from trade with Mexico. Everyone would get richer.

However, let’s look at one American business: the Swingline factory in Long Island City, New York. It manufactured staples and staplers. This iconic company’s giant sign, across the East River from Manhattan, was a landmark for decades. Yet the plant closed in November 1998. Its jobs moved to Nogales in Sonora, Mexico.

Jack Linsky started Swingline in 1925. Linsky became rich enough to endow a pavilion at a New York hospital. In 1970, he sold the company to American Brands for $210 million, equivalent to $882 million in 1998 dollars. Linsky had never been very labor-friendly, but labor relations...

About the Author

John R. MacArthur is an award-winning journalist and author. He has been president and publisher of Harper’s Magazine since 1983.

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