Last Thursday, the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada hosted renowned political economist Stephen Clarkson in a guest lecture titled “Why has North America Failed?” Clarkson, who has spoken at McGill in the past, answered the question by analyzing the United States and its economic relationship with Canada and Mexico, as well as the North American economy and its position on the global stage.
The event, which took place in the ballroom of the Faculty Club, was attended by both McGill faculty and students. William Straw, director of the Institute, provided context for the lecture.
“In [Clarkson’s] view, Canada and Mexico sustain and support American power, and the United States really depends on [those] two countries for their power and place in the world,” he said.
Clarkson’s main thesis was that North America has failed to meet certain standards.
“I don’t think it’s highly contested, but let me lay out what I think is normal criteria of success of a region in three dimensions: economic, political, [and] security issues,” Clarkson said.
He described the areas in which North America has moved toward meeting those standards, but mainly focused on its shortfalls, such as security. For example, the United States makes it extremely difficult for people from Mexico to migrate north, despite Mexico’s membership in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
In recent years, economic and political changes in the United States, Canada, and Mexico have affected their relationships with one another. Mexico is seeking to form better relationships with countries to its south, and Canada is looking across the Atlantic Ocean. Both countries are attempting to form alternate free-trade agreements to cope with the slowly declining U.S., on whom they have been so dependent in the past.
This brings up the question of what North America is—and what it ought to be—economically and politically.
“For many years now, we’ve lived in the context of NAFTA, but does that mean anything to us anymore?” Straw said. “There are great dreams of North American integration, but … people might say that a lot of those dreams have been blocked, disappointed and so on, so I’m very interested in anyone who addresses the question of ‘what does North America mean?’ ”
Following the lecture, wine was served in another room, where the audience socialized amongst themselves and posed questions to Clarkson.
Audience members were impressed by Clarkson’s extensive knowledge on the subject of North American politics and economics, and were grateful for the opportunity to hear him speak.
“I expected a renowned member of the academic community to give a thrilling talk about economics, [and] it was quite impressive,” Ben Palevski, U2 engineering, said. “Including the fact that it was accessible to pretty much anyone who wanted to go, the speaker seemed very well-versed in his material. It didn’t even look like he had prepared—[it appeared as if] he just got up and started talking about his research.”