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Free Trade and Capitalism

December 18, 1994

Congratulations on your editorial "Free Trade Is Wonderful, but . . . " (Dec. 13)! The mantra of free trade and unfettered capitalism needs to be questioned closely by the media. In unrelated articles you have been laying critical groundwork.

In the same edition, "Relief Elusive for Asia's Labor Pains" points out that Adidas workers are paid $1.39 per day to make those exorbitantly expensive sports shoes that athletes are paid millions to advertise. As that article noted, "Conditions in teeming factory towns such as Tangerang represent what labor activists describe as the reverse side of the coin in the debate about free trade." Despite those exploitative low wages, Americans still don't get cheap shoes!

Another article, "Pact Should Benefit Big Industries in State" (Dec. 12), noted some major winners and losers in California, with transportation and high technology major winners. However, the author commented that "industries that depend on low-cost, unskilled labor are in jeopardy, because there is no way they can compete with farms and factories staffed by impoverished Latin American workers." Or, we might add, with low-paid Indonesian or other workers--yet large and growing numbers of Americans need jobs for which they have few skills.

In yet another article, "The Alienated Poor Are Today's National Threat" (Commentary, Dec. 12), the author writes that "the greatest danger to our national security now lies in the growing economic marginalization of so many Americans." This marginalization has not occurred in a vacuum, however. We have been operating under a GATT agreement for years (the Uruguay round), so GATT is not a new concept but a revised agreement. It has problems, will create at least as many more problems as solutions and needs to be carefully weighed and monitored in public forums. Economics is amoral--as your editorial concluded, "Life, after all, is not just about business."



Re "The Alienated Poor Are Today's National Threat," by Hugh B. Price:

We are still trying, in America and Western Europe, to deal with the results of the Industrial Revolution. In 19th-Century England there were riots by working-class people when the invention of the spinning jenny and other mechanical devices, which increased productivity in the textile industry, put a whole class of artisans out of work.

Although increased productivity has also increased wealth for everyone, it has done so erratically and unfairly.

As a society we are hampered in finding fair ways to share the wealth created by increased productivity by our religious traditions, principally Calvinism. Calvinism teaches that people are good or bad by nature, and that the good people are elected by God to have prosperous, happy lives, and that God predestines bad people to suffer. Moral superiority and prosperity go together. Calvinism makes it possible to ignore the poor with a good conscience.

Most Americans do not understand or accept that society is a complex system that benefits some, punishes others and that it is the system that provides the context for success. Similarly, most Americans reject the idea that society has a responsibility toward all of its members as a consequence of a general agreement to support this system. Most successful Americans believe they did it all by themselves. However, no one can build a train until someone invents a steam engine, and you can't run a railroad until someone lays the tracks.

HOWARD MASS, Hacienda Heights

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