‘Free trade’, corporate style – quick, unceremonious burial

At least for spurious arguments. No epitaph. None. Punto Final.

As is well known, all around the world, the ‘free trade’ deals, TPP and TTIP, being negotiated, would bother our famed linguist mightily. But that is one story.

Many a reputable economist has cast a jaundiced eye on the matter. Dean Baker is one. He has been unstinting in his repudiation of the misleading, truly disingenuous, arguments for these things. And there seems to be some multiplicative aspect to such rebuttals – the more the rebuttals the more the arguments keep coming back, yet the same piffle.

But before we get to Baker and others in their Sisyphean struggle against unyielding corporate interests, championed by the US President and shrilly promoted by the US MSM, a digression.

Jon Queally of Common Dreams has a post that focuses a spotlight on one set of supporters, Wall Street Titans Who Crashed Global Economy in 2008 Go Big for TPP. And he observes,

Even as millions and millions of Americans—represented by thousands of labor, environmental, family farm, consumer, faith, Internet freedom and other advocacy organizations—continue to stand firmly in opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, those backing the TPP, including President Obama and a large majority of the Republican caucus, still have two dedicated demographic groups pledging their allegiance to the cause and arguing the so-called “free trade agreement (FTA)” would be good for average workers and the economy overall: billionaires and Wall Street titans.

And in case the point was lost regarding the class of supporters, Queally gives a nod to some of the more impecunious supporters of the TPP,

In his reporting for Huffington Post, Carter makes it clear that it wasn’t only billionaires who signed the letter urging for Fast Track and TPP approval. Some, he told his readers, were “merely millionaire CEOs” like Goldman Sach’s Lloyd Blankfein, Kenneth Chenault of American Express, and JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon.

So how does the US President see the TPP in particular. Well, he did choose Nike – no, not that famed Goddess of Victory – as the site for his sales pitch, Obama at Nike headquarters: why push trade deal at an outsourcing giant?

And we would learn,

Obama tried to turn the focus away from potential job losses in the US to the potential to grow US exports. The president warned that the US must lead in trade negotiations. “If we don’t write the rules for trade around the world, guess what? China will,” Obama said. “And they’ll write those rules in a way that gives Chinese workers and Chinese businesses the upper hand.”

Again? Those terrible Chinese are forever creating such instability in other countries – from Venezuela (‘unusual and extraordinary threat’ to the US?) to Yemen to Libya to Syria to the Ukraine to…. Not so?

And as for some serious confusion of the location for his sales pitch, the President would state profoundly,

“I hear Oregon wine is actually pretty good. Somebody has told me that pinot noir in Oregon is top notch … I want to make sure that Japanese wine consumers have an opportunity to partake in our excellent Oregon wine,” Obama said, adding that the deal could also benefit Oregon ranchers. “Beef is really expensive in Japan. Let’s make sure they try some Oregon steaks. It’s good stuff.”

His other listeners in West Baltimore, Ferguson and similar neighborhoods would surely be amused. And those workers of Beaverton, Oregon? They should be more familiar with couple six packs and a bucket of fried chicken and fries, with such purchases very dependent on ability to meet more basic obligations. And their Vietnamese counterparts’ hourly pay? Pinot noir? Pinot noir? Is that some French perfume? Confusion of venues? Conversation, more appropriate at a cocktail party, a sip-and-chat, for the well-spoken elites?

But back to Baker. Well, in just a bit. Economist Robert Reich seems to have been waiting for such an injudicious move to lower the boom on meretricious arguments, even if they emanate from a Nobel Laureate US President.

Nike, Obama, and the Fiasco of the Trans Pacific Partnership

On Friday, President Obama chose Nike headquarters in Oregon to deliver a defense of his proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership.

It was an odd choice of venue.

Nike isn’t the solution to the problem of stagnant wages in America. Nike is the problem.

It’s true that over the past two years Nike has added 2,000 good-paying professional jobs at its Oregon headquarters, fulfilling the requirements of a controversial tax break it wrangled from the state legislature. That’s good for Nike’s new design, research and marketing employees.

[bold added for emphasis]

And Reich was just warming up.

The pattern is clear from the overwhelming evidence. So one does have to wonder.

But back to Dean Baker. He too would have some befuddlement over the President’s presentation at Nike headquarters, President Obama Is Badly Confused About the Trans-Pacific Partnership

President Obama apparently doesn’t realize that the TPP will create an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism which will allow tribunals to impose huge penalties on the federal government, as well as state and local governments, whose laws are found to be in violation of the TPP. These fines could effectively bankrupt a government unless they change the law.

It is also worth noting that rulings by these tribunals are not subject to appeal, nor are they bound by precedent. Given the structure of the tribunal (the investor appoints one member of the panel, the government appoints a second, and the third is appointed jointly), a future Bush or Walker administration could appoint panelists who would side with foreign investors to overturn environmental, safety, and labor regulations at all levels of government. (Think of Antonin Scalia.)

The US President is also a lawyer, a lawyer who used to teach law? Yet…?

And on that small matter of the ISDS mechanism, the Naked Captitalism blog of Yves Smith has not been, well, parsimonious on its observations and analyses, and the cost to the country and its citizens – if we exclude the corporation as a human citizen. Here we have two posts, informative from even a leisurely glance, if deemed too detailed, that would lead to the question: Why does the US President persist, is so obsessed with, these ‘free trade’ deals that will benefit far fewer US citizens than they will the corporate, elite class?

On the President’s ill-considered attack on Senator Warren, we get an uncompromising rebuttal, The Administration’s Dishonest Response to Elizabeth Warren’s Attack on Secret Investor Arbitration Panels in Trade Deals. One excerpt,

So since this premise is so well accepted (and Warren reminds us that the TPP signatories all have grown-up legal systems), pray tell why do we need a special system of de facto above the legal system panels for the biggest, richest companies who are in a better position than just about anyone to press for their legal rights? The idea that a special legal venue that is for well-heeled multinationals has anything to do with the rights of ordinary citizens is an insult to the reader’s intelligence.

And for that standard, ‘for instance’, From Public Citizen: Top 10 Most Pernicious Investor-State Dispute Settlement Lawsuits. From this the President and his supporters can ponder a sample of the evidence.

On the same ISDS mechanism. From the UN, we once again have its view on the TTIP reflected by Alfred de Zayas, its human rights lawyer. As The Guardian reports, UN calls for suspension of TTIP talks over fears of human rights abuses. Relevant observations,

A senior UN official has called for controversial trade talks between the European Union and the US to be suspended over fears that a mooted system of secret courts used by major corporations would undermine human rights.

And the devastating observation,

“There have been more than 600 such cases and most of them have been decided in favour of the corporations,” he said. “Why? Because the arbitrators are highly paid corporate lawyers, today working for the corporation, tomorrow as advocates, day after tomorrow as lobbyist, the day after that as arbitrators.

“These are classical situations of conflict of interest and lack of independence.”

If one were to request gratuitous rebuttal, rejection of that strange obsession of the US President’s, we have reference to another who also knows a thing or two about international trade. Here he puts in his two cents on the TTIP, The War of Trade Models,

5. My bottom line is that I am happy to accept the Francois et al. estimates as my baseline for the economic effects of TTIP a decade down the line (assuming my capital accumulation caveat turns out to be quantitatively not important). But I would put such large margins of error on either side of them that they would not be dispositive for policy purposes.

As I said at the outset, the real issues lie elsewhere – in the broader social/political consequences of regulatory harmonization and the appropriateness of an ISDS regime in the North Atlantic region. I have serious concerns in both areas, and perhaps I will get to write about them too at some point.

If one were to add in the opposition to these ‘free trade’ agreements by two other economists, Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman – who just happen to be winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics (Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel), as well as having an unimpeachable reputation and prodigious output in the field of economics, well, one will certainly have to wonder, speculate?

That post-presidential life: generous speaking fees, appointments to boards, lavish contributions to post-presidential benevolent initiatives, a modified Clinton Model, so to speak, in exchange for independent states made subject to multinational corporations (MNCs)?

Of course, citizens of more than a few countries would have this message to those concerned opponents in the US, should any of these things be agreed, ‘Welcome to our world!’ – the major difference being the more savage, even deadly, aspects. But, still, a tad improved since Columbus.

Oh, yes, our famed linguist will certainly be bothered mightily on this ‘free trade’ thing?


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