12th Grade Economics New York

Free Trade

Nobel Prize–winning economist Milton Friedman once said, “There is a standard cliché which I am sure you have all heard, that if you have two economists in one room, you are bound to have at least three opinions.” Drawing on disciplinary experts who disagree on a fundamental free-market economic tenet, this inquiry asks students to investigate the dispute over free trade. By considering the arguments of professional economists who may use the same data but come to very different conclusions, students examine the “price” of free trade as it relates to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In understanding the arguments for and against free-trade policy in general and applying such concepts to existing policy more specifically, students can gain clarity about this age-old debate and become participants in a contemporary discussion involving international trade.


Compelling Question:

Is Free Trade Worth the Price?

Staging the Question:

Participate in a trading simulation in order to understand why people trade and why trade is important.

Supporting Question What are the arguments for free trade?

Formative Task List the arguments for free trade on one side of a T-chart.

Sources Source A: Excerpt from Protection or Free Trade
Source B: Excerpt from The Fruits of Free Trade
Source C: Video lecture on Free Trade Versus Protectionism


Supporting Question What are the arguments against free trade?

Formative Task List the arguments against free trade on the second side of the T-chart.

Sources Source A: “Our Misplaced Faith in Free Trade”
Source B: Excerpt from “Is Free Trade Passé?”
Source C: Video interview and transcript of Free Trade?


Supporting Question Why did the United States sign on to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)?

Formative Task Write a paragraph detailing three reasons why the United States signed on to NAFTA.

Sources Source A: Press conference on the North American Free Trade Agreement signing
Source B: Selected remarks by Presidents Clinton, Bush, Carter, and Ford and Vice President Gore on signing of the NAFTA agreements


Supporting Question Has NAFTA achieved its goals?

Formative Task Develop a claim with evidence about the extent to which NAFTA achieved its goals.

Sources Source A: Excerpt from The Effects of NAFTA on U.S.–Mexican Trade & GDP
Source B: NPR audio reports: 20 years of NAFTA
Source C: Americans Are of Two Minds on Trade

Summative Performance Task

Argument: Is free trade worth the price? Construct an argument (e.g., detailed outline, poster, essay) that addresses the compelling question using specific claims and relevant evidence with information from contemporary sources.
Extension: Students could adapt the argument by holding a “fishbowl” debate in which students discuss the question “Should the United States continue the NAFTA?”

Taking Informed Action

Understand: Research the fair-trade movement and the principles underlying this recent economic initiative.
Assess: Identify businesses or organizations in the community that engage in or promote fair trade and evaluate their foothold in the community.
Act: Organize a classroom forum that invites business and/or community leaders to discuss whether the country should engage in free trade, fair trade, or both.