Andy Schmookler: The worst danger from the TPP
Most of the criticism of our trade deals has focused on the very real problem of jobs and decent wages for American workers. But we hear curiously little about what, in the long run, would likely prove the worst thing about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): a provision that would seriously erode our national sovereignty.
This provision would establish what is called the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), through which corporations could sue governments over various things, including "expropriation." The problem is that "expropriation" includes any regulation that negatively affects the future profits of corporations.
The effect would be to make money-making not only the most important thing but the only thing. "Infringing on future profits is presented as a theft deserving of compensation," as one article describes it.
Although the global corporate system is structured to be concerned only with profits, human beings have many other values as well. People want their society not only to be productive, but also to do such things as protect the public health, prevent the poisoning of the water and the air, and assure that workers are safe on the job. People elect governments to protect those other values.
But the TPP — by treating "infringing on future profits [as] a theft deserving compensation" – would penalize and intimidate governments trying to balance profit-maximization with other values.
(Already, under previous such agreements, Australia and Britain have been sued by tobacco companies for requiring plain packaging on cigarettes as a way of impeding people becoming addicted to nicotine.)
The "courts" established by the TPP would render decisions to which there would be no appeal. These decisions would be made by panels of corporate lawyers, whose conflicts of interest would not be tolerated in judges in American courts.
TPP strips from our democratically-elected government powers granted by our Constitution and hands them over to the global corporate system.
For nearly half a century, I have studied pathologies of power systems—how difficult it is for peoples to control their destinies because the systems in which they live take control and drive societies toward outcomes the people would never have chosen.
Every age produces its own form of inhumane power, against which people must struggle to live decent lives.
In Europe, in the anarchy following the collapse of the Roman order, warlords emerged to dominate local populations. With no order above these localities, no one was secure, and these warlords – eventually to be called "nobles" – were compelled to build their castles and towns on difficult but defensible hilltops. It was a time ruled by the sword, and the dominant people were those best at hacking their enemies to pieces.
Over centuries, the local areas under the sway of the warlords got consolidated into larger nation-states. The descendants of the warlords who'd conquered and ruled small areas were now refined "aristocrats," who could exploit the common people through their long-established control over the land. But meanwhile they themselves were brought into subjugation to kings who exercised absolute power by supposed "divine right." Although cities were no longer built like fortresses, the scourge of war continued among these larger states, and their peoples remained powerless to choose their destinies.
The America's democratic revolution provided its people with the means of ruling themselves, creating an order based on "the consent of the governed" and on a notion that human beings had been created equal.
The revolution to enable people to rule themselves has been enormously successful, beginning on this continent and then spreading outward across the planet.
But, when it comes to pathologies of power, we're not out of the woods yet.
The TPP is a step toward a dystopian future shaped not by the people, making decisions collectively according to their full range of values and concerns, but by a system structured around the values of Mammon. It is a sterile future threatened by a global corporate system essentially answerable to no one. Like a machine on automatic pilot.
This corporate system — having already undertaken to steal our democracy here at home (e.g. in the decision handed down by corporate-allied Supreme Court justices in Citizens United, giving corporate wealth greater power over elections at the expense of the citizenry) – now seeks to use TPP to take power directly from government itself.
Over the years we've had more than a few false alarms about losing our sovereignty. (70 years in the UN have not decreased our sovereignty, and the Agenda 21 issue was just a fantasy based on a misunderstanding.)
But this danger from the TPP is the real deal.
Andy Schmookler – who was the Democratic nominee for Congress in Virginia's 6th District in 2012 – is the author most recently of WHAT WE'RE UP AGAINST: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World– and How We Can Defeat It.