Tuesday, December 06, 2016

It's Monbiot Again. This Time He's On About Salvaging Democracy or Something Like That.

No matter how much Justin thinks it's great, neoliberal globalism is a failed experiment. It causes a lot more harm than good. Even the WTO and the IMF now acknowledge that globalism undermines and stagnates national economies and propels inequality to dangerous heights.

John Ralston Saul contends we're in a period of "interregnum." That's a term meaning an interval between one regime and its successor. JRS argues that we're wallowing in the globalism rut while our leaders try to find the vision to replace it. So far, by his count, that's been going on for more than a decade.

The idea of tearing up the free trade economic model is one thing. The bigger problem is what model you invoke next. In my view the safe bet is to go back to something resembling the economic model in use prior to the era of Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney only substantially revised to reflect the environmental realities that confront us today. Economic developments of a seismic magnitude from automation to advanced robotics could be socially devastating to any nation that has ceded too much authority to the commercial sector to harness these developments to the public good.  We urgently need a return of the true nation state with full national sovereignty, the sort of muscular sovereignty essential to help heal our divisions, restore confidence in our government and institutions and meet the challenges of this century.

George Monbiot has some interesting ideas along the same lines. He thinks that saving democracy starts with breaking the chokehold of transnational corporatism. He takes a look at a world in which liberal democracy is in retreat and posits the villain - McDonalds.

From all this I draw the following, peculiar conclusion: no country with a McDonald’s can remain a democracy.

...In using McDonald’s as shorthand for the forces tearing democracy apart, I am ...writing figuratively. I do not mean that the presence of the burger chain itself is the cause of the decline of open, democratic societies (though it has played its part in Britain, using our defamation laws against its critics). Nor do I mean that countries hosting McDonald’s will necessarily mutate into dictatorships.

What I mean is that, under the onslaught of the placeless, transnational capital that McDonald’s exemplifies, democracy as a living system withers and dies. The old forms and forums still exist – parliaments and congresses remain standing – but the power they once contained seeps away, re-emerging where we can no longer reach it.

The political power that should belong to us has flitted into confidential meetings with the lobbyists and donors who establish the limits of debate and action. It has slipped into the diktats of the IMF and the European Central Bank, which respond not to the people but to the financial sector. It has been transported, under armed guard, into the icy fastness of Davos... 

Above all, the power that should belong to the people is being crushed by international treaty. Contracts such as Nafta, Ceta the proposed TransPacific Partnership and Trade in Services Agreement and the failed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership are crafted behind closed doors in discussions dominated by corporate lobbyists. And those lobbyists are able to slip in clauses no informed electorate would ever approve of, such as the establishment of opaque offshore tribunals, through which corporations can bypass national courts, challenge national laws and demand compensation for the results of democratic decisions.

These treaties limit the scope of politics, prevent states changing social outcomes and drive down labour rights, consumer protection, financial regulation and the quality of neighbourhoods. They make a mockery of sovereignty. Anyone who forgets that striking them down was one of Donald Trump’s main promises will fail to understand why people were prepared to risk so much in electing him.

...In his book The Globalisation Paradox, the Harvard economist Dani Rodrik describes a political trilemma. Democracy, national sovereignty and hyperglobalisation, he argues, are incompatible. You cannot have all three at once. McDonaldisation crowds out domestic politics. Incoherent and dangerous as it often is, the global backlash against mainstream politicians is at heart an attempt to reassert national sovereignty against the forces of undemocratic globalisation.

...a similar choice was articulated by the great US jurist Louis Brandeis. “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both,” he said.

...In 1938 President Roosevelt warned that “the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism.” The Democrats saw concentrated corporate power as a form of dictatorship. They broke up giant banks and businesses and chained the chainstores. What Roosevelt, Brandeis and Patman knew has been forgotten by those in power, including powerful journalists. But not by the victims of this system.

And then there was the first President Roosevelt, Theodore, who in 1910 had this to add to today's debate.

In every wise struggle for human betterment one of the main objects, and often the only object, has been to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity. In the struggle for this great end, nations rise from barbarism to civilization, and through it people press forward from one stage of enlightenment to the next. One of the chief factors in progress is the destruction of special privilege. The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows. 

At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress. In our day it appears as the struggle of freemen to gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will. At every stage, and under all circumstances, the essence of the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy privilege, and give to the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth.

Practical equality of opportunity for all citizens, when we achieve it, will have two great results. First, every man will have a fair chance to make of himself all that in him lies; to reach the highest point to which his capacities, unassisted by special privilege of his own and unhampered by the special privilege of others, can carry him, and to get for himself and his family substantially what he has earned. Second, equality of opportunity means that the commonwealth will get from every citizen the highest service of which he is capable. No man who carries the burden of the special privileges of another can give to the commonwealth that service to which it is fairly entitled.

...Now, this means that our government, national and state, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests. ...For every special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office. The Constitution guarantees protection to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation.
The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; who insists that the creature of man’s making shall be the servant and not the master of the man who made it. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have called into being.

There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done.

Teddy Roosevelt's stirring words sound positively leftist but that appearance is merely a reflection of how far we have drifted to the radical right during the era of neoliberalism over these past three plus decades.

What legendary jurist Louis Brandeis said, what Franklin Roosevelt said, what Theodore Roosevelt said are really principles that are foundational to progressive, liberal democracy. Their words are a powerful denunciation of today's "predator state" in which so much of our sovereignty has been negligently ceded to our "mighty commercial forces" that pursue their corporate interests at the direct and substantial cost to our nation and our people.


Anonymous said...

Anyong.....And now Justin Trudeau is going to reopen our sovereignty debate with China as to how much China can own of the Tar Sands. Justine Trudeau just might end up being the most dangerous person yet to Canadian Society yet.

Purple library guy said...

Roosevelt's words are stirring, but beneath them is a fallacy. If you accept that certain people are going to have a whack of money and property under their personal private control, and if you accept that people's goal in life is supposed to be to get more (which is what capitalism explicitly, foundationally endorses--the entire purpose of enterprise and investment are to get more), then this, "There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done" is a fantasy, utterly impossible.
Government, whether through granting of contracts or drafting of laws or enactment of subsidies, is a huge source of profit, indeed the hugest. Any instance of private wealth whose business it to increase that wealth will have enormous incentive to engage in political activity combined with enormous means to do so. One may create, in the very short term, a space for fairly non-corrupt governmental processes, but they cannot last as long as the system stands. Political processes under capitalism (whether nominally democratic or dictatorial or whatever) will always tend towards becoming a vehicle for conveying profits and power to the moneyed few (and eliminating all obstacles, whether social or environmental, to maximizing those profits and power).
That's why the red-greens are right: Socialists should be green, and greens should be socialist (broadly speaking; social anarchists count IMO). The same basic engine ruins both the working class and any autonomous existence of the planet; to capital both are just obstacles and prey, to be dominated, sucked dry, and destroyed if they resist. Capital is paradoxically also dependent on both of them for the creation of profits in the first place, but it never seems to think that far ahead.

Unknown said...

You always write interesting and informative posts Mound, but your last several posts on democracies decline and why have been excellent.

I only wish their was someone in the house with your mind that would challenge Trudeau and his spineless party on his embracing neoliberalism. I've come to the conclusion that Trudeau is a neoliberal true believer.

No one seems to challenge this government about their ideas. I fear we will get to a point that we will have lost our sovereignty and only will Canadians then sit up and take notice.
Anyong maybe right when he writes "Justin Trudeau just might end up being the most dangerous person yet to Canadian Society yet."

The Mound of Sound said...

I don't see capitalism as one dimensionally as you do, PLG. Socialism, likewise, comes in a variety of flavours.

The Mound of Sound said...

Pamela, I was worried when, to mark his first six months in office, Trudeau remarked during an interview that he is foremost a free trader. He showed an absolutism that often reveals a deeply belief, or "faith-based" ideological conviction. This sort of belief often is not moved by logic or fact.

Surely it can be no coincidence that Trudeau's free trade policies are accompanied by his finance minister's notice that our young people are just going to have to accept a life of "job churn" followed by the Bank of Canada governor's statements that the good old jobs aren't coming back and our future lies in the service sector chasing outsourced IT work, the stuff that usually goes to India, and jobs in the tourism industry - restaurant servers, chambermaids and tour guides.

Those three people - Trudeau, Morneau and Poloz - apparently don't see how their points are so powerfully linked, each built atop the others. It's because of their blase approach to their jobs that young people, in Canada and elsewhere, lose faith in democracy, their government and its institutions.

Anonymous said...

Mound, I wonder how much of Trudeau's "free trade" stance is simply baked into the system. None of the parties oppose "free trade," and its value is simply taken as economic orthodoxy.

Even Trump claims to be a free trader. His main critique of existing trade deals is that they're poorly negotiated: "I think NAFTA has been a disaster. I think our current deals are a disaster. I'm a free trader. The problem with free trade is, you need smart people representing you. We have the greatest negotiators in the world, but we don't use them. We use political hacks and diplomats. We use the wrong people."

Not that I expect Trump to fix things, but he may be onto something here. Countries do use hacks (i.e. politicians) and diplomats, and we see Canada, for example, agreeing to cede sovereignty, bypass our courts and settle disputes in secretive off-shore tribunals. Hell, our governments negotiate in secret to avoid citizens finding out what's on the table until it's too late. But the multi-national corporations who are the beneficiaries of these deals clearly are not using hacks. How else do you explain them being able to make a mockery of sovereignty by demanding and receiving compensation for democratic decisions?


The Mound of Sound said...

Cap, I think you captured the issue with your "baked into the system" observation. I have labeled it our "orthodoxy." Perhaps another way of putting the same thing.

I'm not anti-trade by any means. Globalized free trade, however, has transformed the exchange of goods and services between countries by adding the secret partner, powerful corporate forces that now participate in sovereignty.

It's easy to accept the current order with some resignation which I suspect is how Trudeau views it. To anyone who cannot envision a better way of ordering commercial relations between nations and regions it must seem an inevitability.

Perhaps neoliberal globalism is the engine that will carry us to some dystopian future. Like some chain-smoking lung cancer patient we just cannot stop ourselves. Societies past have collapsed for far less.

John B. said...

I'm glad that somebody took the trouble to look up an example of that fallacious Trump regurgitation about how his pals in the billionaire genius club were going to go back to work for America First if only he could convince enough slugs and powerless losers to buy his presidency.

Who were Trump's greatest negotiators' government relations consultants and how were they otherwise occupied when the Chamber used its weight to turn the CUSFTA into the NAFTA and then joined up with ECAT to ram their "China Normalization Initiative" up the virgin asses of the future patriots of Trump Nation?

Michael Moore should have been talking to Trump instead of the Nike guy back when he made "The Big One". At least Phil had to worry about Brooks, Reebok, Puma, Adidas et al. Now we've got his followers expecting that Trump is going to do something about getting running shoes manufactured in the US again. Next thing you know they'll be expecting him to get the dormant factories where they used to manufacture ties and dickeys up and running. None of them will probably ask their leader who his competition was when the "hacks" and "diplomats" and other assorted elites forced him to outsource his supply chain for "Trump Ties" to China.

Rather than Trump's unspecified "hacks" and "diplomats", it has been organized money, the sources of which can be identified with no uncertainty, that has had its way with US trade policy since the advent of Reagan, just as it had for some time before, but with the distinction that at long last the real intention of the promotion of global trade liberalization would cease to be concealed and the game was on. The injurious effects on return on investment of a hundred years of marketplace interference through the intrusion of "restrictive practices" and "perverse incentives" imposed by organized labour and the "excessive regulatory burden", all supported by uncomprehending leftist militants, were about to be reversed. No secret was made of this intention.

"The US Chamber strongly supports permanent and unconditional extension of China's MFN status. ... Over the next decade China will be an important market for US Chamber members ... to the benefit of American businesses and workers."

- John Howard, Director , International Policy and Programs, US Chamber of Commerce, 1997

"Expanding China trade, in terms of greater access to China's market and as a gateway to the burgeoning markets of the Asia-Pacific region, is vital to ensuring the continued growth of the American economy through the next decade."

- Calman J. Cohen, President, ECAT (Emergency Committee for American Trade), 1997

In Connecticut, the ECAT "grassroots" China Normalization Initiative to capture the Congress was led by America First's newest best friend forever, United Technologies.

I know it's not funny, but I've got to say it:

"Yuk - yuk - yuk."

Either Trump knows even less about the processes that brought about the NAFTA and trade liberalization with China than my dumbest neighbours, or he's lying. Take your pick.