Free Trade

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Should our democracy participate in free trade agreements?

Braddock, Pennsylvania, was once a vibrant community. It is now so poor and rundown that film producers used it to shoot the opening scenes for a movie about the world after a nuclear disaster. Braddock is like many towns in the United States. Employers have either gone out of business or have moved to other countries where costs are cheaper. In 2011, the mayor of Braddock said, “We have lost 90 percent of our population and 90 percent of our buildings.... Ninety percent of our town is in a landfill.”

Materials (pdf)

Free Trade Lesson:








Links to Principles of Democracy

The nature of democracy changes and grows along with its citizenry, but it’s always based on principles that help citizens modify, uphold, and strengthen their democracy. Visit the Democratic Principles and Activities page to learn more about the principles underlying democracy and gain access to activities that help students understand the complexity of democracy.

We’ve identified some democratic principles addressed in this lesson “Should our democracy participate in free trade agreements?” What principles might you add to the list below?

Please here for a pdf of the fourteen principles handout on our Democratic Principles & Activities page.



In a democracy elected and appointed officials are responsible for their actions and have to be accountable to the people. Officials must make decisions and perform their duties according to the will and wishes of the people they represent, not for themselves or their friends.

Citizen Participation

citizenparticipationCitizen Participation
One of the most basic principles of a democracy is citizen participation in government. Participation is more than just a right—it is a duty. Citizen participation may take many forms, including running for election, voting in elections, becoming informed, debating issues, attending community meetings, being members of private voluntary organizations, paying taxes, serving on a jury, and even protesting.  Citizen participation builds a better democracy.

Economic Freedom

economicfreedomEconomic Freedom
People in a democracy must have some form of economic freedom. This means that the government allows some private ownership of property and businesses.  People are allowed to choose their own work and to join labor unions. The role the government should play in the economy is debated, but it is generally accepted that free markets should exist in a democracy and the state (government) should not totally control the economy.  Some people argue that the state should play a stronger role in countries where great inequality of wealth exists due to past discrimination or other unfair practices.


In a democracy all individuals are valued equally, have equal opportunities, and may not be discriminated against because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. Individuals and groups maintain their rights to have different cultures, personalities, languages, and beliefs. All are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law without discrimination.

Rule of Law

ruleoflawThe Rule of Law
In a democracy no one is above the law—not even a king, elected president, police officer, or member of the military.Everyone must obey the law and will be held accountable if they violate it. Democracy also insists that laws are equally, fairly, and consistently enforced.


For government to be accountable, the people must be aware of the actions their government is taking. A transparent government holds public meetings and allows citizens to attend. In a democracy the press and the people are able to get information about what decisions are being made, by whom, and why.


Selected Resources

Bhagwati, Jagdish N., “Anti-Globalization: Why?” (Chapter 1), In Defense of Globalization (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2004),  (accessed May 13, 2011).

Braddock, Pennsylvania Website, (accessed May 19, 2011).

Chang, Ha-Joon. The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2008).

Cobden, Richard, “Free Trade with All Nations,” speech delivered in Manchester, England, January 15, 1846,  (accessed June 6, 2011).

Economic Freedom Network, “Economic Freedom of the World Report” (Vancouver, BC, Canada: Fraser Institute), (accessed May 27, 2011).

“Globalization 101: A Student’s Guide to Globalization” (New York: The Levin Institute, State University of New York, n.d.), (accessed May 19, 2011).

Institute for Liberty and Democracy, Lima, Peru, (accessed May 20, 2011).

Lemus, Gabriela D., and Julian Sanchez, “Will the CAFTA Treaty Improve Life in the Americas?” Hispanic, vol. 8, iss. 9 (September 2005), p. 78, (accessed May 13, 2011).

“Levi’s Ready to Work Campaign,” (accessed May 20, 2011).

Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, (accessed May 18, 2011). Schwindt, Karen, “Free Trade in Panama: The Rich Get Richer, the Poor Get Poison,” Washington Report on the Hemisphere, vol. 31, iss. 1/2 (February 3, 2011), p. 8, (accessed April 7, 2011).

Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), (accessed May 12, 2011).

World Trade Organization, (accessed May 13, 2011).

Stiglitz, Joseph E., “Free Trade Can Be Too Free,” Business Week (July 3, 2006), (accessed May 13, 2011).

Stiglitz, Joseph E., “Globalism’s Discontents,” The American Prospect, vol. 13, no. 1, (January 1-14, 2002), (accessed May 19, 2011).