Abolishing (Small Town) America: Free Trade Wipes Small Towns Off The Map

Back in 1993, when
the propaganda campaign for passage of the
North American Free
Trade Agreement
was swinging, there were three
main reasons offered as to why NAFTA should pass. It
would help reduce illegal immigration from Mexico; it
would help modernize the Mexican economy, and it would help Americans by
removing trade barriers. Not one turned out to be true.

The effect on
immigration is obvious enough: Immigration ever since
has been bigger than ever. The “Mexican modernization”
myth went south during the Mexican peso crisis a few
months later. As for the impact on Americans, NAFTA has
been pretty much a zilch as well, except perhaps for the
mega-corporations that benefit from it. But how much of
a zilch NAFTA and similar globalization
measures have been is made a little more clear in a
recent report in the New York Times. What NAFTA
and similar agreements mean is probably the extinction
of America`s small towns.

“All along the
nation`s back roads,” the Times reports,
“hundreds of towns … are teetering in the recession,
and some worry that they may never recover.” [NYT,

Changes in World Economy on Raw Materials May Doom Many

February 16, 2002] The reason the Times offers is sound:
“Since the last recession, in the early 1990`s [before
NAFTA], China, Russia and the former Soviet republics
have charged into the world`s commodity markets. At the
same time, new trade agreements have erased quotas and
tariffs that long insulated United States industries
from competitors.” NAFTA is not explicitly mentioned,
but what other “new trade agreements” can you think of
that have been adopted since the early 1990s?

As a result, small
American towns wither. In

Brady, Texas,
farmers who relied on the export of angora wool “are
victims of low prices and competition from New Zealand
and Argentina.” For

Bartow, Ga
“high production in countries like China have led to an oversupply and plunging prices” and the consequent
devastation of the town. In

which is near the “nation`s largest deposits of potash,
a basic ingredient of fertilizer,” the agricultural
recession and Canadian potash competition is destroying
the farming economy on which the town relies. “The
mining companies say most of those jobs may be gone for

The free trade myth,
of course, is that it all balances out. Farmers, miners
and any other kind of worker put out of business by free
trade can always find some new job doing something else.
Right—like the
people who used to be farmers and now sell

as some in

Silver City
do, or those in Brady whose “game-stocked woods bring in
money from

Of course, too, there is another kind of “balancing
out,” which is simply that small towns that can`t
compete with the

slave labor of China

and the low prices of South America simply vanish. The
economic reality for workers and farmers who are
middle-aged, middle-income and middle-educated is that
they can`t adjust by becoming software engineers. Even
if they did, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs would hire

Indian technicians

instead of the Americans. The economic reality is that
Americans put out of business by the glorious
globalization celebrated by business and political
elites become a proletariat and the small towns from
which they come cease to exist.

Aside from the
economic consequences of globalization, the social and
perhaps ultimately the political—effect
will be incalculable. As small towns cease to exist,
cities will expand. Independently owned firms and farms
will vanish along with the towns on which they depended.
Workers will become more dependent on big businesses and
big bureaucracies and will lose not only their economic
independence but also their social and intellectual
autonomy. In other words, workers and farmers who were
once independent will become the equivalent of
post-industrial serfs, bound not to the land but to vast
organizations they don`t own and can never control.

Politically, the
result will be the enhancement of the power of the
elites that do run such


and the further erosion of republican self-government.
The whole point of republicanism as the

Founding Fathers

and their predecessors understood was that the economic
and political independence of the citizen was essential
for the existence of a republic. When citizens lose
their autonomy and become dependent on others—
government, corporations, unions—the
self-government that defines republicanism dies.

The globalization
that today is starting to wipe American small towns off
the map merely helps complete a process of consolidation
that started as early as the nineteenth century, when
big business and big government between them swallowed
whole communities. The difference is that back then many
Americans resisted the dispossession they saw coming.
Today, few Americans resist at all, and most are
perfectly happy to play with the new toys the global
economy promises them—and
so far has failed to deliver.

Sam Francis webpage


February 21, 2002