In an Uncertain World: Tough Choices From Wall Street to Washington By Robert Rubin and Jacob Weisberg, Random House, 448 pages, $35.00
If a Democratic president gets to replace Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan when the latter's term is up in 2006, Bob Rubin is the odds-on favorite. He has the financial credentials: Goldman-Sachs, U.S. Treasury, CitiGroup. He raises money for Democrats. And he is credited with the one accomplishment of the Clinton era that all Democrats are proud of: eight years of peacetime economic growth that, by 2000, had produced something pretty close to full employment.
During the 1993 battle over the North American Free Trade Agreement, the proposal's promoters' most politically effective argument was that NAFTA would keep Mexicans out of the United States. As political writer Elizabeth Drew later observed, "Anti-immigration was a sub-theme used, usually sotto voce, by the treaty's supporters."
The voce was not always sotto. "We don't want a huge flow of illegal immigrants into the United States from Mexico," said former President Gerald Ford, speaking at one of then-President Bill Clinton's pro-NAFTA rallies. "If you defeat NAFTA, you have to share the responsibility for increased immigration into the United States, where they want jobs that are presently being held by Americans."
As they emerge from the wrecked political shelter of their "yes, but" support for the war in Iraq, Democrats are consoling themselves with the prospect of a post-Saddam Hussein return to normalcy -- in America. "Remember 1992," they whisper. "After we get this war behind us, the next election will be about the economy again, stupid."
Two political movements representing distinct visions of the global economy will hold their annual conventions the last week of January. The World Economic Forum -- an organization of some 1,000 multinational corporations -- will meet in Davos, a picture book ski resort in the Swiss Alps. The forum was organized 30 years ago to provide a discreet hideaway where businessmen-without-borders could socialize and strategize with one another and selected heads of state. Over the years, Davos has become less an exclusive retreat to do business and more a quasi-public conference on how to make the world safe for multinational capital.
The business interests that promoted the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have gotten their money's worth. Since the agreement went into effect in January 1994, American and Canadian corporations have moved production and jobs south to take advantage of cheap Mexican labor. Subsidized agribusinesses in both northern countries have blown small-scale Mexican farmers out of their local markets for corn, wheat and other commodities. Eighty-five percent of the Mexican banking system is now foreign-owned. Mexican production, meanwhile, is moving to even lower-wage countries. And the Mexican business partners who brokered these deals got rich.