Tuesday, August 21, 2007

NAFTA Super Highway

That is the title of an article in the August 27th edition of the Nation magazine. In the article Christopher Hayes talks about a current right wing conspiracy theory about a large super highway which is supposed to run from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. You should read the article for details, here is the link http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070827/hayes .

My interest in the article is the concern on the Right about international trade which fuels the opposition to such a super highway. Opponents of the highway are concerned about US sovereignty and how making it easier to transport goods manufactured outside the United States into middle America threatens our independence. In other words, the nationalist in the GOP are becoming concerned about what the free traders of the country are doing.

The article claims the right-wingers are fixated on a supposed highway that does not exist nor is it proposed. However, the article does explain that existing highways already connect a Mexican deep water port and Toronto, Canada to Kansas City where investors are trying to promote Kansas City as a hub for international trade. I don't know if this highway is proposed or not, but I believe that if it is cheaper ( and possibly as reliable and as timely) to import goods from China through Mexico than many businesses will choose to use that route and, for the time being, existing highways will serve just fine. When the existing highways become overcrowded they will be expanded or new ones will be built.

NAFTA eliminated the tariffs which would have made this trade route impractical and clause in the NAFTA reauthorization bill permits Mexican truck drivers to drive Mexican trucks on US roads. Goods coming into the US from Mexico will have no tariffs, do not have to be transferred from Mexican to domestic trucks, and can be delivered to their destination in the US by drivers being paid Mexican labor rates. Much has been done in the last fifteen years to make the equivalent of a NAFTA superhighway more likely not less likely.

Back to the Right’s concern about international trade. The arguments made by opponents of this highway have some similarities to the Left’s concern about so called free trade and corporate globalization. The Right opposes the highway because they see it has a threat to US sovereignty. In short, they do not want foreigners to control what happens on our roads. Now this sentiment has racist overtones which anti-corporate globalization advocates reject, but it does seem to open a possible channel for dialogue. If they are concerned about foreign corporations influencing US politics, why aren’t they concerned about the influence of US corporations on our political institutions? If foreign trade decreases our independence, what about the WTO? The WTO was also created by free trade agreements and exercises control over US environmental, safety and labor regulations, but the Right rarely, if ever, includes it in their list of international conspirators.

In the past the Right has staunchly defended US corporations, free enterprise and deregulation. Perhaps this fear of the NAFTA Superhighway will allow them to see where the unfettered market leads and help them gain some understanding of why regulations are needed.
The second part of the article talks about a very real highway proposal in Texas to construct a large privately held toll road from the Mexican border up through the eastern corridor of that state. The highway will be constructed and operated by a Spanish firm. The fact that the road will be a toll road and that it will be privately controlled by a foreign firm has drawn lots of opposition in Texas from Republican activists. They are concerned that this proposal takes all the decisions about where to put the road, how much to charge etc.. out of local people’s control into the hands of a foreign entity.

[Terri] Hall soon became part of the broader anti-TTC effort, and though she originally thought she was just fighting a corrupt local government, she's come to view her battle in a much broader context. "There are big-time control issues," she said. "Someone is really jockeying around to control some things here in America. It explains the open borders, it explains our immigration
issues, it explains our free-trade issues, what it's doing to the middle class. "
The Left should oppose this type of proposal for many of the same reasons. But, I have the same concerns about the privatization of our public roads (or other public infrastructure for that matter) whether the corporation owning the road is domestic or foreign. Either way, local people have no control over how that road will be operated, yet will pay most of the cost via tolls and will be forced to live with the results.

Here in North Carolina, the I-85 bridge across the Yadkin river needs to be replaced. This is a major bridge. I-85 connects Charlotte to Greensboro & Raleigh and on a larger scale Atlanta & New Orleans to Washington DC and the rest of the Northeastern seaboard. In addition to that there are only six bridges that cross the Yadkin between Winston Salem and the South Carolina border. Someone going from Greensboro to Charlotte would add 30 to 40 miles and 45 minutes to their trip if they wanted to avoid the I-85 bridge. This is a trip that tens of thousands of North Carolinians make every day. Yet some politicians in North Carolina want to solicit proposals for private companies to replace the bridge and operate it as a toll bridge. Proponents of the privately owned toll bridge claim that North Carolina cant afford to replace the bridge and that private capital will be required. This is a cop out of the largest degree. Of course the State can afford to build this bridge, but it will most likely require federal subsidy and additional local taxes, advocating for either of these things requires real leadership, something that is in real short supply these days. Instead corrupt politicians see it as a way to enrich their friends on the public dole, and lazy ones just see it as an easy way out.

The push to privatize our public assets has supporters in both political parties in this country. To defeat this dangerous trend, we need opponents from both the Right and the Left side of the political spectrum. We, on the Left, should engage with opponents of this superhighway and ask about their concerns and then talk to them of our concerns about privatization and unfettered capitalism in general. Because if you take away the underlying racism of the Right’s concerns, there is much common ground that we can find on this issue.

No comments: