The 2/15/ 2008 headline for the guest editorial in the Morrison County Record read Every Child Deserves a Chance to Succeed in a Global Economy.  What it was really saying is every American child deserves a chance to succeed in a global economy. Dedicated funding for education is a no-brainer and raising the academic standards to that of other countries should go without saying. There are a few issues and assumptions within the article that warrant careful scrutiny.

The article says “all citizens will need to have a higher level of knowledge and skill to earn a living wage.” While stated as a fact, I think the fundamental question should be, why?

To answer that you have to go back to the signing of trade agreements like NAFTA and the extension of permanent normal trading status to China along with its inclusion to the World Trade Organization (WTO), all signed during the Clinton administration. After the signing of the initial agreements the U.S. enacted so many subsequent trade agreements that the flurry of acronyms looks like a game of Boggle.

In the early 1990’s consumer groups and environmentalist warned of the potential adverse effects these trade agreements could have on American jobs as well as the American standard of living. In short; if the trade agreements were enacted without setting standards for the environment, working conditions in foreign countries and human rights, Americans stood to loose more than jobs and more than entire industries;  over time the American standard of living would have to equalize with that of the other participating countries.

Consumers groups weren’t preaching isolationism, they were merely pointing out that the trade agreements should estabished a baseline standard for business conduct in order to be included as a trading partner. Free trade would mean fair trade and it would act in best interest of all people as well as the environment thereby establishing a system that discourages the sweatshop culture and egregious polluting rather than one that fosters its growth and development in foreign countries.

The reality is that the standards we allow for our trade participants will ultimately determine how good or how poor our own standards will be. If the baseline standards allow for sweatshops or even worse employs children then America will forfeit those business sectors to other countries thereby creating a need for Americans to have a higher degree of skill and a higher level of education in order to earn a living wage, as Heinzman suggests.  

The question we should be asking right here and right now while we still have a choice is this;  is this what we want?

 American school children should have an education that matches the best education systems in the world, this does not mean that America would be prudent to continue to forfeit its low skill business sectors to foreign countries who pollute the planet and violate fundamental human rights. Even if we were to succeed in ensuring every American child a world class education someone will have to serve up fast food and work at Wal-Mart, how much poorer are we willing to allow our poor to become?

Another less evident change ushered in by the succession of trade agreements is this; for the first time in history American businesses forged a unprescidented alliances with the American government so the U.S could compete in global  markets, a de facto, pseudo partnership that has allowed U.S. products like pharmaceuticals to be rushed market at breakneck speeds. 

The question we forgot to ask is where does that leave American consumer protections within US government agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)?

Today the consequences are too obvious to be ignored but perhaps we have been slow to identify one significant root to the problem. In quick succession Americans watched in horror as tainted dog food, tainted tooth paste and lead paint arrived in US markets. Gaping infraction discovered despite the fact that only a minuscule percentage of the goods imported to the US are ever inspected.

While this article only serves to touch upon a few issues,  review the list of promises made by NAFTA’s corporate proponents prompting its Congressional approval in 1993:

200,000 new NAFTA jobs in the first 2 years, higher wages, increasing middle class consumer demand in Mexico, an increasing U.S. trade surplus with Mexico, greater economic and social stability in Mexico, improved environmental and health conditions in the U.S.-Mexico border region, thorough border inspection, as trade volumes increased, inhibiting shipments of unsafe food or contraband such as illegal drugs, and better relations with Mexico on issues from immigration to promotion of democratic elections. 

While the articles title was Every Child Deserves a Chance to Succeed in a Global Economy what Heinzman is really saying is American children deserve a chance to succeed in a global economy. 

I must agree with his original wording “every child.” Americans should demand a complete review of all trade agreements  and ask if they’ve lived up to any of their promises. Are these agreements good for Americans of just good for filthy rich shareholder? While insider trading is illegal for you, me and obviously Martha Stewart, it isn’t for those we elect to the U.S. House and Senate, they profit from these agreements and their subsequent investments.

America should  set standard education, but we should also set the standards for human rights and environmental stewardship. If we don’t we will be forced to continue gutting standards Americans once enjoyed, in order to compete.

 ***In the model discussed by Heinzaman article,  there must be a large consumer base requiring good paying jobs in order for globalization to work.  Which nations have that base will be the next question.