I am not an economist, not even close, but Joseph Stiglitz is. Stiglitz is actually a Nobel Prize winning economist, former Chair of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, and former chief economist for the World Bank. Joseph Stiglitz is positively terrified of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal being pushed rabidly by President Obama. Because he is, I am also frightened by what this “deal” portends.
Fundamental to America’s system of government is an impartial public judiciary, with legal standards built up over the decades, based on principles of transparency, precedent, and the opportunity to appeal unfavorable decisions. All of this is being set aside, as the new agreements call for private, non-transparent, and very expensive arbitration. Moreover, this arrangement is often rife with conflicts of interest; for example, arbitrators may be a “judge” in one case and an advocate in a related case.
If there ever was a one-sided dispute-resolution mechanism that violates basic principles, this is it. That is why I joined leading U.S. legal experts, including from Harvard, Yale, and Berkeley, in writing a letter to President Barack Obama explaining how damaging to our system of justice these agreements are.
Rules and regulations determine the kind of economy and society in which people live. They affect relative bargaining power, with important implications for inequality, a growing problem around the world. The question is whether we should allow rich corporations to use provisions hidden in so-called trade agreements to dictate how we will live in the twenty-first century. I hope citizens in the U.S., Europe, and the Pacific answer with a resounding no.
At the core of this Nobel Laureate’s argument against the TPP deal is the simple fact that legal authority – basic, bedrock legal authority – would be transferred from the sovereign courts of the United States to multinational corporations if this “deal” comes to pass. Note well, also, this statement from Stiglitz: “Though corporations can bring suit, others cannot. If there is a violation of other commitments – on labor and environmental standards, for example – citizens, unions, and civil-society groups have no recourse.”
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That is utterly intolerable, and it’s what the president wants.
Joseph Stiglitz is not alone. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has essentially gone to war with the White House over the issue of the TPP. While she deplores many of the aspects of the TPP, her main concern has been the secrecy behind the whole process, and the push in Congress to give the president fast-track authority to pass this thing … which, by the bye, got a significant boost when the Senate voted against it, and then voted for it 24 hours later, much to the dismay of many who rightly oppose this thing. Progressives are particularly distressed; with friends like these, who needs enemas?
The president has committed only to letting the public see this deal after Congress votes to authorize fast track. At that point it will be impossible for us to amend the agreement or to block any part of it without tanking the whole TPP. The TPP is basically done. If the president is so confident it’s a good deal, he should declassify the text and let people see it before asking Congress to tie its hands on fixing it.
I understand that we want to be a nation that trades, that trade creates many benefits for us. But only if done on terms that strengthen the American economy and American worker. I should say the American family, because that’s what this is really about.
A Republican President could easily use a future trade deal to override our domestic financial rules. And this is hardly a hypothetical possibility: We are already deep into negotiations with the European Union on a trade agreement and big banks on both sides of the Atlantic are gearing up to use that agreement to water down financial regulations. A six-year Fast Track bill is the missing link they need to make that happen.
The funny part came when President Obama dismissed Sen. Warren as just another politician as a means of defusing her criticism. Richard Nixon said, “I am not a crook” while staring into a camera. He was in fact a crook, and President Obama is in fact a politician. A consummate one, if truth be told. Of course Sen. Warren is a politician, but she is endeavoring to do what the president is not: represent the people. The president, for his part, is actively representing the corporations that actually are allowed to read the details of this deal, while the rest of us are not.
Incredibly, while Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry and major media companies have full knowledge as to what is in this treaty, the American people and members of Congress do not. They have been locked out of the process.
The TPP follows in the footsteps of other unfettered free trade agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA and the Permanent Normalized Trade Agreement with China (PNTR). These treaties have forced American workers to compete against desperate and low-wage labor around the world. The result has been massive job losses in the United States and the shutting down of tens of thousands of factories. These corporately backed trade agreements have significantly contributed to the race to the bottom, the collapse of the American middle class and increased wealth and income inequality. The TPP is more of the same, but even worse.
TPP will allow corporations to outsource even more jobs overseas; Service Sector Jobs will be lost; manufacturing jobs will be lost; US sovereignty will be undermined by giving corporations the right to challenge our laws before international tribunals; wages, benefits, and collective bargaining will be threatened; our ability to protect the environment will be undermined; food safety standards will be threatened; prescription drug prices will increase, access to life saving drugs will decrease, and the profits of drug companies will go up; and Wall Street would benefit at the expense of everyone else.
Stiglitz, Warren, Sanders … and they are not alone. A very interesting left-right coalition is coalescing around opposition to this mysterious, dangerous, perilous trade deal. The real mystery, however, is why President Obama – in his final years in office – would staple himself to such a divisive and damaging initiative. He has the opportunity to focus on infrastructure repair, an example made vivid by the recent rail calamity in Philadelphia. He could lean into pushing the ACA in Red states that still resist it. Hell, he could go wild and push for what they’ve done with solar power in Germany, panels right down the sides of the highways, free and open space to do all that green stuff he’s been yapping about while approving oil drilling in the Arctic and the Atlantic Ocean.
But no, it’s this terrible thing he has chosen for his “legacy.”
Is he getting bad advice? Does he seek finally the chance to say he crafted a bi-partisan agreement on something?
Or is he what many of us have feared he is for a while now: a Trojan Horse president, presented at the gates as a progressive gift? Once let in, however, an army of Third-Way “Democrats,” multinational corporations, insurance companies, banks and Wall Street masters-of-the-universe were unleashed to wreak havoc, again.
Res ipsa loquitur, the saying goes. The thing speaks for itself.