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The idea is that, eventually, as standards of living rise in Mexico, Mexican consumers will be able to buy all of the same kinds of goods now regularly purchased by their neighbors to the north. In the meantime, in addition to lower labor costs, the agreement also gives American and Canadian concerns access to cheaper raw materials, and an additional, migrant or resident, labor force of Mexicans, upon which to draw in their own countries. Mexico, as well, tends have to fewer, and more laxly enforced environmental and labor regulations; lower healthcare costs, etc., that make the cost of doing business in Mexico a winning proposition for multinational corporations. (Buckley & Ghauri, 2004) Flexibility is seen as key in these multinational enterprises. Programs must be able to be implemented in a manner consistent with the demands of a constantly changing and growing global marketplace. The system employed must be adaptable to many different technologies. To lock in a single technology is to limit future opportunities. To be confined to a single market, or labor source, is to constrain opportunities for growth. One's options need to be kept open.
Yet, NAFTA has had its critics. The agreement has not been the boon for individual Mexicans that it was made out to be. Also, many Americans activists, and Non-Governmental Organization, or NGO's, are certain that hundreds of thousands of American jobs have been lost to competition South of the Border. America is bleeding manufacturing jobs at a truly alarming rate. The "virtual economy" of the multinationals, by allowing those with money to invest anywhere they are permitted to do so, and by permitting them to shift their resources as warranted, and so to make money by playing the market, has caused dramatic changes in the American domestic outlook, "As quicker and higher profits become the general expectation, management can use that expectation to justify further cuts in wages and worker benefits." (Peterson, 2003, p. 38) the effect of NAFTA, and of globalization in general, has thus been to the detriment of many American workers. The solid, lifelong jobs once available to so many have now largely disappeared. Workers must also cope with skyrocketing healthcare costs, and the difficulties of financial constraints in retirement. Karl Marx would not be particularly pleased with the developments that have occurred in the modern world. While many of the problems he associated with the system of exploitation of workers by the few have indeed been alleviated, they have not been alleviated everywhere, and continue to plague even the citizens of advanced nations like the United States and Canada. Canadians, for example, enjoy the benefits of a universal free public healthcare system, while Americans do not. In the United States, medicine remains a privatized commodity controlled by mostly by large corporations and, to many, exorbitantly expensive private physicians and the physician-controlled American Medical Association and similar organizations. Rebecca Todd Peters introduces a theory that might have some appeal to Marx, a "developmental perspective" that emphasizes the "necessity of involving national and international governmental agencies in devising social and economic programs to better the conditions of the people in the less fortunate parts of the world" (Morris, 2005). By emphasizing the importance of helping those less fortunate in developing nations - in terms of NAFTA this would apply especially to Mexico - Peters is implicitly raising the specter of class warfare that is so continually underscored by Marx.
By seeing NAFTA as a potential source of conflict, of Marxian class warfare in the affected states, Marx's argument becomes clearer. In order to impose the global system that brings increased profits and prosperity to the small class of individuals that own the large multinational corporations, it is necessary to convince the public at large that NAFTA is universally beneficial. The various gains and losses must be seen as trade-offs. For this to be accomplished, the entire population of the three countries must come to view itself as a single population, to the effect that what adversely affects one area and benefits another is in fact beneficial to the whole. This leads naturally to the proposals for a North American Union that have been quietly discussed at the highest levels of government in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Intended to harmonize the laws of the three countries and merge together the various administrative, economic, and political structures, the plan would represent the ultimate in cultural realignment on capitalist free market terms (Jasper, 2007).
Cultural reorganization is assuredly essential if the commercial interests that Marx inveighed against are to possess the means to further expand their influence and control. The companies become more powerful by employing workers in all three countries, their policies and goals being the shared goals of the single, unified ruling establishment. The ruling class grows yet more powerful not merely through unity but also through its greatly expanded ability to control the means of production, exploit resources, and in general create economies of scale. A single set of environmental and labor practices, together with unified currencies, systems of weights and measures, and a host of other regulations, make it cheaper to do business across vast territories and among formerly diverse populations. Immigration ceases to be an issue. The story becomes, instead, one of workers migrating from place to place in search of the best paying jobs. Whatever burdens must be shared are shared by all.
Of course, the supreme coming together that is the natural outcome of NAFTA and of proposals like the North American Union, work as well in consonance with Marx. For Marx saw the relentless international expansion of capitalism as an example of the bourgeois owners sowing the seeds of their own destruction. The more powerful the corporations became, the more they would be required to exploit and oppress the working classes, thus the reason "Karl Marx loved 'the Free Trade system' because of its 'destructive' capacity to 'break up old nationalities... And [hasten] the Social Revolution'" (Bentley, 2006, p. 44). Under such a regime, the conflicts that he predicted would grow more intense. The American media is filled with stories of the increasing gap between rich and poor. Undocumented Mexican workers are a common source of political controversy as liberals and conservatives, immigration and anti-immigration, forces argue over the best means of "immigration reform." Meanwhile, advocates for the downtrodden point out the poor living conditions of many of these men, women, and children; their lack of access to decent educational and health facilities, and the substandard housing in which many must live. On the home front, Americans face increasing disparities between what they hope to achieve and what appears actually achievable:
If part of what matters for tolerance and fairness and opportunity, not to mention the strength of a society's democratic political institutions, is that the broad cross-section of the population has a confident sense of getting ahead economically, then no society -- no matter how rich it becomes or how well-formed its institutions may be -- is immune from seeing its basic democratic values at risk whenever the majority of its citizens lose their sense of economic progress. (Friedman, 2007)
The very promise that is the underpinning of the whole free market capitalist system appears under threat. Marx would have approved.
Thus, the conflict theory that was expounded so clearly by Marx seems applicable to today's conditions. Karl Marx posited that the different economic classes of society were engaged in a form of class warfare between those who owned the means of the production and the vast majority who labored for their benefit. Business enterprises naturally seek to expand. Corporations eventually become multinational corporations. These corporations become so large that they begin to rival the nation-states themselves. They demand that adjustments be made to rules and social systems in order that they might increase their profits. Multinational organizations replace state organizations as the bodies that set standards and norms. NAFTA is one multi-state entity that endeavors to establish norms of economic behavior for a group of nations at the same time. The nations within the NAFTA agreement - the United States, Canada, and Mexico - watch as the great corporations, and the handful of individuals who own them, reap the benefits of increased centralization and imperial-style expansion. The largely economic competencies of NAFTA become insufficient, and the ruling classes demand more. A North American Union is proposed that will fuse together much of the administrative apparatus of the three formerly-sovereign nations. As the countries draw closer together under an ever more powerful ruling class, the very culture is altered, deeply-held social attitudes are changed at the whim of the "owners" and society seems set on a path of absolute globalization. At the same time, severe tensions are produced. The disparities in wealth and ownership lead to cleavage among the classes, and Marx's economic dialectic appears insured. Or is it? Reforms can be made.…[continue]
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