Friday, October 25, 2019

Malcolm Fairbrother's "Free Traders"

Malcolm Fairbrother is a professor of sociology at Umeå University, Sweden, and the University of Graz, Austria. He is also a researcher at the Institute for Futures Studies, Stockholm.

Fairbrother applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Free Traders: Elites, Democracy, and the Rise of Globalization in North America, and reported the following:
For Free Traders, the Page 99 Test performs weakly, though not terribly. Page 99 describes some core issues in the negotiations that established the 1989 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, and later the 1994 NAFTA (with Mexico). The book is certainly about those negotiations, but it's also about a lot more.

To be specific, page 99 includes this:
The NAFTA investment chapter (Chapter 11) brought together commitments that had never been combined before. First, Chapter 11 stipulated the elimination of many regulations that Mexico had previously used to shape the behaviors of foreign investors, such as local content rules and foreign exchange balancing requirements. The definition of investment for the purposes of Chapter 11 would be very broad, and parties could never introduce any new performance requirements. The Americans wanted to eliminate any sectoral restrictions on foreign investment in Mexico, and also to encourage the privatization of state-owned enterprises; the Mexicans insisted on excluding the energy sector, for the most part, but otherwise they excluded very few sectors. Given their enthusiasm for free markets (see Chapter 4), as one of them said, “It’s hard to think of any sector in which foreign investment had no reason to be.”
There are nods here to some of the book's broader themes. NAFTA's contents were unprecedented for an agreement spanning developed and developing countries, and it reflected a dramatic recent change in Mexico's whole economic development strategy. That change came from a newfound enthusiasm for free-market policies on the part of the country's (evolving) political elite. U.S. officials, on the other hand, were asking for much the same kinds of things they had been trying to get from developing countries for decades--but which the latter had previously denied them.

In a sense, all of this historical material about NAFTA's creation is a means to another, broader end: explaining the rise of economic globalization generally, and identifying the people and ideas behind it. To what extent should we think about globalization as a project of elites? And (given that the book mostly argues globalization was an elitist project) how were elites able to get their way? How were different kinds of free-trader elites able to cooperate, given that (the book shows) there were subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle conflicts among their priorities and worldviews?

Page 99 does show how Free Traders relies a lot on quotes from people who were directly involved in creating NAFTA (plus all kinds of official and unofficial archival records about what they did, said, and thought). Existing academic research on globalization has tended to be either quite stylized and abstracted, or atheoretical and specific to individual countries. What I tried to do in the book was to highlight gritty details that were telling about the bigger forces at work, while emphasizing patterns and building a big-picture theory of globalization's history (with implications for the future).
Visit Malcolm Fairbrother's website.

--Marshal Zeringue