Martha White at Slate:
What's in those free-trade agreements—and do they really boost exports?: [L]ook no further than NAFTA... supposed to bolster the economies of the United States, Canada, and Mexico.... NAFTA is at once credited for job creation and blamed for job loss, depending on who's counting... [...] The jobs question is one that has long vexed trade policy analysts. NAFTA supporters point to the economic growth and low unemployment the United States saw through most of the '90s; detractors point to the drop in manufacturing jobs from the time of the agreement's implementation to today...
The "credited for job creation" link is to the Heritage Foundation--which is not a reliable source. The "blamed for job loss" link is to the Naderite Public Citizen--which is also not a reliable source. The Heritage Foundation study contains not a single number that can be interpreted as an attempt to quantify how the U.S. and Mexican and Canadian economies are different as a result of NAFTA than they would be otherwise. Yes, Heritage "credits NAFTA for job creation"--but it doesn't say a word about how many. Public Citizen is even more careful: it does not claim that employment in the U.S. is lower as a result of NAFTA--the closest it comes is to say that "the era of... NAFTA... has seen... a net loss of quality jobs."
Yes, I know that the marching orders at Slate from the editors are "BE POINTLESSLY CONTRARIAN!! FIND SOMETHING, AND BE CONTRARIAN ABOUT IT!!" And I am very sympathetic to arguments that NAFTA was just not a big deal plus or minus for the U.S. economy. Why am I sympathetic? Because it is true. NAFTA could not have been a big deal for the U.S. since the Mexican economy is about 4% of our size (although NAFTA was a very big and mixed deal for Mexico.)
But if you are going to claim that the conventional wisdom against which you are deploying your contrarian plumage is that NAFTA "bolstered the economies of the United States, Canada, and Mexico... [caused] the economic growth and low unemployment of the 1990s," shouldn't you at least find somebody who says that NAFTA caused the economic growth and low unemployment of the 1990s and link to them? And if you are going to claim that the conventional wisdom against which you are deploying your contrarian plumage is that NAFTA is "blamed for job loss" shouldn't you find and link to somebody willing to claim that employment in America today is lower as a result of NAFTA?
Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?