Since 2009, the Obama administration has been negotiating the Trans-Pacific Parnership (TPP) trade agreement in secret. Only lawyers and advisors representing banks and corporations, and trade representatives from other nations are allowed to participate. Until recently, senators and congressmen had been left in the dark. Under protest, Obama gave them very limited access to the document. He told them they are forbidden, under threat of government prosecution, from discussing the trade deal with the public.
Rep. Alan Grayson said “Having seen what I’ve seen, I would characterize this as a gross abrogation of American sovereignty. And I would further characterize it as a punch in the face to the middle class of America. I think that’s fair to say from what I’ve seen so far. But I’m not allowed to tell you why!”
Obama, trying his best to sell a pig in a poke, is pushing the TPP as promoting “free trade,” which he equates with creating more jobs and prosperity for the American people. He claims it will be “good for the middle class.” This. of course, is exactly what Bill Clinton said about NAFTA in 1993.
A report published by Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch in 2014 reviews the promises and failures of NAFTA:
Like the TPP, NAFTA was sold to the U.S. public in 1993 with grand promises. The deal would create hundreds of thousands of good jobs here–170,000 jobs within the pact’s first two years, according the Peterson Institute for International Economics. U.S. farmers would export their way to wealth. NAFTA would bring Mexico to a first-world level of economic prosperity and stability, providing new economic opportunities that would reduce immigration to the United States. Environmental standards would improve.
Twenty years later, the grand projections and promises made by NAFTA’s proponents remain unfulfilled.
The report details how destructive NAFTA has been for the citizens of the United States and Mexico:
The data show that NAFTA proponents’ projections of broad economic benefits from the deal have failed to materialize. Instead, millions have suffered job loss, wage stagnation, and economic instability from NAFTA. Scores of environmental, health and other public interest policies have been challenged. Consumer safeguards, including key food safety protections, have been rolled back. And NAFTA supporters’ warnings about the chaos that would engulf Mexico, and a new wave of migration from Mexico, if NAFTA was not implemented have indeed come to pass, but ironically because of the devastation of many Mexicans’ livelihoods occurring, in part, because NAFTA was implemented.
What exactly is “free trade?”
Independent political writer, “Gaius Publius,” explains the meaning of the term “free trade” in the context of the TPP.
[I]n essence “free trade” means one thing to most of us and another thing to people with money. For us, “free trade” is about exchange of goods. Not for those with almost all the money in the world. For them, “free trade” is and always has been this:
“Free trade” means “unrestricted capital flow.” It’s the right of money to flow anywhere it wants, seeking any profit it can, unrestricted by any government, and then flow back out again on a whim.
Before FDR, this is what “liberalism” meant; it’s why people like the infamous free-market economist Friedrich Hayek are considered “classic liberal economists.” FDR so changed the definition of “liberal,” in fact—by allowing a place for government in the management of the economy—that it led people like Hayek to object that the name had been misappropriated:
In 1977, Hayek was critical of the Lib-Lab pact, in which the British Liberal Party agreed to keep the British Labour government in office. Writing to The Times, Hayek said, “May one who has devoted a large part of his life to the study of the history and the principles of liberalism point out that a party that keeps a socialist government in power has lost all title to the name ‘Liberal’. Certainly no liberal can in future vote ‘Liberal'”.
This “free market” stuff has been with us for centuries in the West, and it’s always about capital and the rights of capital to be free of government. Guess who that benefits? If you said “capitalists and the politicians who serve them,” you’d be right. You can’t have a predatory Industrial Revolution without that kind of “philosophy” in place as a cover story.
Needless to say, the cover story is still in place. Welcome to the world of TPP.
The TPP “free trade” deal, up close and personal
Besides losing your job to someone in one of the TPP countries, there are other ways the TPP could directly impact your life. For example, the TPP will free banks and corporations from the constraints of government laws and regulations—both here and in other signatory countries—by setting up a corporate-run legal tribunal that would supersede all government jurisprudence. What exactly does that mean?
Lambert Strether, writing at Naked Capitalism, gives us examples of how this form of absolute rule by corporations enshrined in the TPP could play out in your state or your neighborhood.
So, if you were a corporate lawyer, sitting in judgement on a TPP tribunal, totting up the damages some hapless government had wreaked against a corporation by, oh, providing its citizens with single payer health care, or preventing an oil company from poisoning their groundwater through “excessive regulation,”—or halting development to protect a historic site under local zoning ordinances, or halting the East-West Corridor to protect the Penobscot—what would you consider “distinct, reasonable, investment-backed expectations”? I’d guess it would be the Net Present Value (capitalization) calculations done by the wounded corporation itself, eh? Like on an Excel spreadsheet. What could be more credible? Or more just?
In other words, TPP elevates capitalization—the expectation of profit—as a principle to the level of, say, the Bill of Rights, or the Declaration of the Rights of Man. And then, government, when it provides concrete material benefits to its citizens, must “compensate” capitalists whenever their calculated, immaterial expectations—capitalization—have been “expropriated.” What a racket! TPP is the biggest enclosure in the history of the world!
“Arbitrary control”—absolutism—in service of capital as a global change in the constitutional order, and all done in secret. What could go wrong?
It’s no wonder Obama wants to keep this deal secret from the American people. It is written by and for corporations, it undermines national sovereignty and nullifies your voice as a citizen.
Elizabeth Warren, who has been highly critical of Obama negotiating the TPP in secret, had this to say on her blog:
Have you seen what’s in the new TPP trade deal?
Most likely, you haven’t – and don’t bother trying to Google it. The government doesn’t want you to read this massive new trade agreement. It’s top secret.
Why? Here’s the real answer people have given me: “We can’t make this deal public because if the American people saw what was in it, they would be opposed to it.”
If the American people would be opposed to a trade agreement if they saw it, then that agreement should not become the law of the United States.
Well said, Senator Warren! And shame on you President Obama.