The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Free Trade Agreements


FTAs will have the effect of streamlining and standardizing how trade is conducted among sovereign nations. This should render economic conditions propitious to generating efficiencies of scale and cheaper prices -that’s Good. FTAs will also formalize business as the guiding principle for social and democratic development among and within nations -that’s Bad; since in their current form, FTAs will constrain local governments from acting in the best interests of the good people who elect them, if it can be shown that the new policy/law interferes with a signatory country business’s profit making. The Ugly: Imagine all of the children running around the globe and in your own neighbourhood with no opportunity save for getting into trouble, because their parents are struggling from payday to payday to balance multiple-low paying part time jobs. This is a work-life situation that FTAs will exaggerate and could render permanent.

To hold the view that business is society’s ‘guiding light’ and highest aspiration is putting the proverbial cart before the horse: all businesses are societies, but not all societies are businesses (logic 101). This means that it is proper for the social mores  of business organizations to be derived from and form a subset of  the values of the society in which they do business; but it is quite improper for a society’s values to be derived from and form a subset of the values of a business –most especially businesses with origins and head office presence in countries that have social and environmental values quite different from ours. Businesses, employers, and employees are important features of society; but to structure society upon the business model, as if the goals and motivations of business and societies were identical, is ludicrous. In business, the guiding principle is plainly limited to profit making.

Business exists to support the goals and aspirations of society; not the other way round.

Make no mistake, we are at an inflection point in human history and social evolution. What we do now will be difficult, nay, impossible, for future generations to undo.

  1. To achieve the good, we must globalize properly. We must be serious about the commitments we make; however these commitments are made with governments – we must never forget that governments represent people, and it is all about the people – investors, the wealthy, the poor, women, the homeless, employers and employees – people. People aspire to raise families; to enjoy being a child, and then raising children, and then slowly fading away into their golden years (while spoiling the grandchildren of course J). If globalization – one of its key operatives being FTAs – does not hold the welfare of all people above that of certain segments (the investor, say?) – then wealth inequality and all of the societal anathema this condition is responsible for will become hard-coded as an attribute of globalization. The resultant new world order nigh impossible to get rid of. A well known personality is quoted as observing that seed which is scattered upon rock can only produce plants that are crooked and enfeebled; but that seed scattered upon good soil is productive of plants that are straight and true. Poverty is society’s ‘rock.’
  2. To minimize the bad, we must globalize fairly. Money is not only power, it is opportunity. It is opportunity to grow, learn, engage, and to do the right thing – not only for yourself, but for others. The rope is much stronger and durable if the strands making it up are relatively (but not exclusively) uniform and tightly knit together. This is natural process; as humans forming human societies, we are not above natural process, no matter what we may think. No rope maker would choose to combine fat strands with thin ones to make his rope. Such variation among the most crucial component of the rope makes it weaker. The most critical component of society is….people! The lowest of rope makers, were he/she running the country or the U.N., would routinely be about the business of reducing wealth inequality among and within nations, knowing full well that some lower amount will be necessary to remove the drag wealth inequality exerts upon our social progress.
  3. To turn our backs forever upon the ugly, we need simply reverse the current trend in politics and balance egoic human attitudes with the socio-centric sort. We need to stop and take a good look at where we are going. Trade agreements have their role in the ongoing evolution of the human social order, but only within the broader framework of building viable societies. If we are prepared to do whatever is necessary to accomplish our goal, we will get there.

We must determine how much variation, in particular economic variation, societies are able to tolerate before the effects become anti-social. Once we agree on that, why, Mr. Piketty has already provided us with the means of reaching the targets.[i]

[i] Read his book, Capital in the 21st Century, or at least an article about his book. I believe he is spot on.