Free Trade and Catholic Social Teaching
It is shaping up that one of the major issues this election year is going to be free trade and the international trade deals that the U.S. has negotiated over the past quarter-century. The major agreements that come to mind, which have generated so much controversy, are the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Marrakesh Agreement, which brought the World Trade Organization into existence. Looming on the horizon also is the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Free trade, of course, is a staple of classical liberal economics and has been embraced by many of today’s “conservatives,” although politicians across the spectrum have generally supported free trade deals as a way of supposedly increasing American economic prosperity. The debate rages as to whether these and various bilateral trade arrangements have been, on balance, beneficial or hurtful for the U.S. The biggest issues have been whether these deals have caused a decline in the American manufacturing sector, exported jobs, and resulted in our markets being inundated by sub-par goods.
Some say that we need “fair trade” instead of free trade, and it’s clear that free trade has become almost a dogma for some economists and policymakers. What does Catholic social teaching say about trade?