Friday, May 20, 2016
What, By Now, We Should Have Realized About Free Trade Agreements But Still Haven't.
Nothing has become so undeservedly imbued with the status of orthodoxy as free market fundamentalism embodied in today's free trade pacts and neoliberal governance. This has become our orthodoxy. We accept it, usually without a second thought. We have long forgotten the pitch they used to sell it to us at the outset. If we did remember the promises we would realize how we've been had. We wouldn't be nearly so complacent, and through that powerless, as we have become.
Harper approached market fundamentalism with the reverence afforded to scripture. It was his gospel and he clung to it as tenaciously as religious fundamentalists embrace biblical inerrancy. Harper may have been the hard case but those before him and since have also accepted rule by markets.
While free trade deals are inked by states, those states are really just a front for corporate interest and corporate power. A free trade deal embodies some form of "investor-state dispute resolution" mechanism, secret courts, the effect of which is to create a power-sharing relationship. State sovereignty is to some extent yielded. It doesn't just evaporate. It goes somewhere. It passes to some other entity.
One aspect of that sovereignty surrender is the planning power. If a government's plans intrude on perceived commercial rights, the government's power can be fettered by litigation and awards of massive damages. In the result, planning power is quietly and gradually ceded to the private sector. You can usually sense this when you detect a lack of vision, a lack of cohesiveness in government policy making. That's the telltale of sovereignty corrupted.
Economist James Galbraith offers this insight:
"The history of compulsory [state] planning cannot be purged of its warts; this is the conservative and libertarian case, and it does no good to deny the force of their argument. But this does not make planning unnecessary or mean that one can do without it.
"Again the issue is, In comparison to what? A state that does not plan does not, by default, turn this function over to the market. Even if the market is perfectly efficient, it still suffers from two ineradicable defects. The first relates to the distribution of income and power; the market conveys signals only in proportion to the purchasing power of the individuals transmitting them. The poor do not matter to the market. The second relates to representation: people not yet born do not turn up at the stores, They send no market signals at all.
"Defenders of markets talk about futures markets, or long-term contracts, arguing that these serve the needs of the future and obviate the need for planning. This is a misunderstanding. Such markets and contracts serve only the needs of today's economic actors; they are a way of projecting the needs and interests of the present forward into the future, of managing risks for today's market actors. They have nothing to do with preparing for, protecting, or representing the needs of the future. In the market economy, no one speaks for those who will follow. Speaking for the interests of successor generations is a function that has to be imposed on the market by outside agency and regulatory power; it is an act of imagination. The great fallacy of the market myth lies simply in the belief, for which no foundation in economics exists, that markets can think ahead. But they cannot. The role of planning is to provide that voice, if necessary against the concerted interest and organized power of those alive today.
"A country that does not have a public planning system simply turns that function over to a network of private enterprise - domestic or foreign - which then becomes the true seat of economic power. And that is why the struggle over planning is, and remains, such a sensitive issue; it is the struggle over power. It is a struggle not between democracy and the corporation, but between those - scientists, engineers, some economists, and public intellectuals - who attempt to represent the common and future interest and those - banks, companies, lobbyists, and the economists whom they employ - that represent only the tribal and current interest. It is an uneven struggle. It is a struggle in which, outside of wartime and the zone of permanent planning called the Pentagon, the planners have prevailed on only rare occasions, notably during the Great Depression. But it is an inescapable struggle. If the future is to be provided for, you must have a community of planners, and some way must be found to support them, to permit them to develop their plans and resolve their differences, and to give them access to the levers of public power. To walk away from this problem with a shrug about 'markets' is to disenfranchise the future. To enable planning guarantees nothing. But to 'rely on the market' is to guarantee that the interests of the future will never be provided for."
What is Galbraith telling us? He seems to be warning that the market forces so dominant in society today and the neoliberals in the political caste who serve them work together "to guarantee that the interests of the future will never be provided for." That should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying any attention to government especially since Harper came to power and, more disturbingly, the government that has since displaced him. Trudeau is, if anything, more worrisome than Harper because he represents a party whose members consider it progressive. There may be a progressive or two within Trudeau's cabinet but damn if I can name them.
A lot of us had hopes that Harper's successor would right Canada's badly listing political keel. That hasn't happened.
Pimping bitumen is a case in point. That is all about "the tribal and current interest" at the considerable expense of "preparing for, protecting and representing the needs of the future."
No we have to accept the fact that this government, flying its false flag, is only marginally less inadequate than the one it displaced.
Time for a break. Here's George Carlin explaining why bullshit is the glue that still holds us together.