CAFTA Passeda


A narrow win for the Central American Free Trade Agreement. It's not a perfect agreement—congressional poodles trotting leashed behind the sugar industry only slightly opened the U.S.'s hyperprotected market to the most popular legal white powdered import from south of the border. But the conventional wisdom here—that a defeat here would've been a crushing symbolic blow to trade liberalization's forward momentum—was probably right in this case.

Still, it's been more than a little embarassing to watch the debate over this, on both sides. From Republicans, we've heard neo-mercantilist language about how the real benefit of CAFTA is that we can really stick it to China. But the argument that took the cake was one I heard from a reporter on NPR yesterday afternoon, attributed to unnamed Democrats: Freer trade will exacerbate income inequality within Central American countries, destabilizing the region and therefore threatening U.S. national security.

Now, there's an old joke among debaters—embodied in R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World as We Know It"—that every high school policy debate round had to include a claim that one's opponent's proposal—even if it were about food stamps or gay marriage—would somehow lead to nuclear war, the "nuclear war disad." I'd always thought a high school argument would be the only place that would fly, but I'll admit, I hadn't considered Congress.