The Washington Post was a strong supporter of NAFTA at the time the deal was approved. It continues to be a strong defender of the pact nearly two decades later. It has repeatedly shown itself willing to make up facts or just ignore them to push its pro-NAFTA line.
An example of the former occurred in December of 2007 when its lead editorial criticized the leading Democratic presidential candidates for saying that they would renegotiate NAFTA. The editorial told readers that not only had NAFTA been good for the U.S., it had been great for Mexico:
“Mexico’s gross domestic product, now more than $875 billion, has more than quadrupled since 1987.”
For those keeping score, the actual increase was 83 percent.
Today the Post is again touting the praises of its beautiful baby. Its lead editorial noted the decline in illegal immigration from Mexico to the United States. It told readers:
Migration plummeted after 2005 because of reduced U.S. demand for labor and the slowing of Mexican population growth — but also because NAFTA started to pay off in the form of dynamic new export industries in Mexico such as automobile manufacturing. Analysts suggest the gap in wages between the United States and its southern neighbor, while still wide, has narrowed to the point where staying home is economically rational for a growing number of Mexican workers.
NAFTA encouraged both the United States and Mexico to make optimal use of their scarce resources. In the short run, this shifted jobs and income within each society and between them. This inherently disruptive process doubtless caused Mexicans who lost out to seek opportunity in the United States.
But over time, NAFTA helped make Mexico more efficient and, hence, wealthier. It formed part of a broader restructuring that has transformed Mexico from the underdeveloped, authoritarian country it was 30 years ago to the increasingly middle-class democracy it is now.
The gross domestic product per capita in Mexico was $12,400 in 2010, up about 21 percent in real terms since 1980.
Wow, that really sounds great. Now let’s take a quick look at what the IMF has to say about Mexico’s situation. The graph below shows per capita income growth in Mexico from 1980 to 2011, compared with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and the United States.
Mexico’s 23.5 percent per capita growth over this period puts it dead last among this group. Its growth is almost one-thrid less than Brazil’s 32.9 percent and less than half of Argentina’s 52.7 percent.
Interestingly, its per capita growth is also just a bit more than one-third of the 66.3 percent growth in the U.S. over this period. That might raise questions about the extent to which the wage gap has closed over this period. Of course there has been a substantial upward redistribution of income in the United States over this period (partly due to trade deals like NAFTA), so some closing of the wage gap is plausible. On the other hand, Mexico stands out among Latin American countries in having substantial upward redistribution itself in the last decade, so it’s not clear that ordinary workers received much benefit from even the country’s limited growth.
Of course many factors affect Mexico’s growth and it may not be fair to attribute much of its economic troubles to NAFTA. However no one can look at the data and seriously tout Mexico’s strong growth and transformation. It clearly is a laggard, no matter how vigorously the Post might argue otherwise.
Economist Dean Baker is co-founder of Center for Economic Policy and Research and writes regularly on CEPR’s Beat the Press blog, where this post first appeared.