Why not a North American Union?

Commentator Will Wilkinson

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Scott Jagow: The trade agreement NAFTA is now 14 years old.
And it's still being debated. This week, Mexican president Felipe Calderon defended NAFTA against protest farmers. In the U.S., free trade is a central issue in the presidential election.

Commentator Will Wilkinson says NAFTA isn't the problem -- it's only the beginning of the real solution.


Will Wilkinson: There are some who believe a grave threat to American sovereignty looms over the horizon. A shadowy cabal, they say, is planning a massive "NAFTA superhighway," a new North American currency, and a common market in goods and labor. It will all culminate in an E.U.-like North American Union.

It turns out this is mostly fantasy. But the fantasy is more dream than nightmare. Because some aspects of a North American Union would leave Americans and our neighbors both richer and freer.

The population of undocumented migrants in the U.S. has grown rapidly in recent decades -- in part because we have implemented increasingly restrictive border policies. What we've done is make passage riskier. This has slowed in-migration. But those who do come now are more likely to stay. And this has increased the permanent population of undocumented Mexicans.

The best solution to America's immigration problem is not a wall or a new crackdown on the hiring of undocumented workers. It's NAFTA's unfinished business: a common North American labor market. It's illogical and impractical to create a single North American economy that integrates markets for goods, capital, raw materials, services, and information but tries to keep labor markets divided.

Mexico's GDP per capita is about what Poland's was in 2004. That was the year Poland became a part of the E.U., and started sending a large flow of newly-legal migrant workers to a much wealthier Britain. This neither increased British unemployment, nor overtaxed social services.

It's been a boon to both the British and the Polish economies, and a higher percentage of Polish workers now circulate back home. Romania and Bulgaria are even poorer than Mexico, but they are now set to integrate their labor markets with the rest of the E.U. in seven years.

If they can do it, then so can we. And if a humane and effective policy of labor mobility is what a North American Union would deliver, then what is there to fear?

Jagow: Will Wilkinson is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute in Washington.

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