NAFTA on the Merits
It's been objected that I should actually make an argument about NAFTA on the merits rather than simply assert that I think it was a good idea. I didn't do it because this is one of the most well-trod-over subjects in our political debate and I don't think I have a ton of original contributions to make. This paper makes some important points that go beyond a simplistic analysis of economic trends in Mexico, and I largely follow Brad DeLong on such matters.
As I said in the original post, I think it's clear that NAFTA was oversold during the initial debate when both sides started making wildly overblown claims about the likely impact of the deal on the United States. I'm not, moreover, one to run around going "oh noes, politicians are trying to secure votes by appealing to manufacturing workers' interests!" since I don't really know what else they're supposed to do. That said, it's simply not the case that U.S. trade policy is the cause of the structural decline of American manufacturing. It's mostly been driven by other factors, and lowered trade barriers have made most Americans better off. What's more, insofar as NAFTA was intended to improve the U.S.-Mexico geopolitical relationship and help consolidate moves toward political reform in Mexico, it seems to have been a success. The correct solution to the inequality-boosting elements of lowering trade barriers with low wage countries is higher taxes and better public services -- these proposals from Dean Baker for freer trade in high-end professional services are also a good idea.