The fellow on the late news had just finished reporting that the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union had complained about unfair competition from foreign clothing workers and part of his report referred to George Meany's support for the clothing workers.
"This isn't fair competition." Meany had said. "This is a stacked deck. American workers are being forced to compete with inhuman wages as how as 15 cents an hour." And Meany added that American clothing companies are forced to compete against foreign exporters who are subsidized by their home governments and therefore can dump their goods here for such low prices that they take jobs away from American workers
My friend turned off his set and said."I don't ordinarily agree with George Meany on anything, except maybe his choice of cigars. He has good taste in tobacco. But this is one time I think he's absolutely right.There may have been a time when free trade was a good idea, but it's a farce now. Unless we put a stop to it, half of our American work force is going to be unemployed."
I think I began worrying about the "export of American jobs" even before George Meany began expressing alarm at the trend. But I couldn't resist needling my friend, for reasons that will later become apparent to you.
So I said to him,"You happen to be head of a large retail organization, so you want to make sure your potential customers have jobs and money to spend. But suppose you were head of a manufacturing organization instead. Wouldn't you favor free trade so that you could sell your excess production overseas."
"No, no," he said, raising his right hand heavenward. "So help me, I'd give first priority to making sure that every American has a job. Export business is a luxury we can afford only if it doesn't interfere with full employment. If the price we must pay for the privilege of exporting is to let in goods manufactured with 15-cent-an-hour labour, we're in trouble."
"But free trade means the consumer gets a break because foreign competition keeps our domestic prices down." I argued.
"The theory that free trade brings advantages to both the importing and the exporting countries may have been valid at one time," he said, "but in practice it just doesn't work that way any more. What free trade means today is that our free enterprise has to compete with goods that are low priced because they are subsidized for export by the countries that have been stealing American jobs. It's exactly what the old grouch said: a stacked deck that is destroying millions of American jobs. I say we've got to make our TVs and our automobiles and our clothing and our steel in this country instead of importing these things from abroad. If we don't do that, where is the American workman going to get the money to keep our economy going?"
I applauded briefly, then said. "Oh, by the way - you own three automobiles. Tell me where they were made."
He glared at me for a moment, then said. "Go to hell." He just couldn't bring himself to admit that one of his cars came from Germany, one from Britain and one from Japan. So we just didn't discuss free trade any further.