Sunday, March 09, 2008
On this day:

Fred Barnes on the Democrats, NAFTA, Ohio, and Alabama

From the Weekly Standard last Tuesday:

WHEN VOTERS IN OHIO go to the polls today, they will have heard over and over again from Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton that their state's economic troubles are caused by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other trade treaties.

But there was fresh evidence last week that NAFTA has had little to do with Ohio's doldrums, its job losses in particular. When the U.S. Air Force awarded a $40 billion contract for 179 new aerial refueling tankers, Ohio wasn't in the running as a site where the aircraft might be built. Instead, they'll be built in Alabama outside Mobile.

Why? The answer is simple: Alabama's business climate is good and Ohio's isn't. When major business projects are looking for the best site, job-hungry Ohio is rarely considered. And NAFTA has little or nothing to do with it.

The same could be said of Michigan and other "Rust Belt" states. As Thomas Sowell wrote last week:

While American auto makers are laying off workers by the thousands, Japanese auto makers like Toyota and Honda are hiring thousands of American workers. But they are not hiring them in the rust belts.

They are avoiding the rust belts, just as domestic businesses are avoiding the high costs that have been piled on over the years by both unions and governments in the rust belt regions.

In short, the rust belts have been killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. That is a viable political strategy, so long as the goose doesn't die before the next election and politicians can avoid leaving their fingerprints on the weapon.

But the people who lose their jobs, and who live in communities that decline, need to look beyond the political rhetoric to the grim reality that there is no free lunch.

Many workers in the new plants being built by Toyota and others apparently already understand that. They have repeatedly voted against being represented by labor unions. They want to keep their jobs.

Barnes and Sowell are right: Honda and Toyota and Mercedes and Hyundai are not hiring folks in the old manufacturing centers of the rust belt. They're hiring them in low-tax, right-to-work, pro-business states like Alabama.

The idea that free trade is a net job-killer is nonsense; the real job-killers are high taxes and overregulation. People in states like Ohio and Michigan should take some lessons from their neighbors to the south, not from the newly-manufactured protectionists in the Democratic Party.