this column by Thomas Friedman, what follows is my response.
This is more or less where I stand on trade, that it's good in theory but only marginal in importance as compared to maintaining full employment, which we haven't. The most salient feature of the proposed treaty about which Thomas Friedman (TF) is opining is its secrecy: no one really knows what is in it except for the corporate lawyers who wrote each of its thousands of clauses, but none of them really have an umbrella understanding of the whole. I support fair trade, which is different from free in that "free" has so many meanings as to be an empty signifier: if TPP were fair what would be the point of its secrecy? That it is secrete states a clearly as one could hope that its contents would be disagreeable to someone. That someone would not be who wrote it. Who do you suppose might not like it if they could see it?
So before tackling Friedman's column I suppose I have to clarify where I'm coming from and the interpretive schema I use to evaluate a column like this. It is to my eyes is an almost infinite Russian doll of nested assumptions. Then I want to look at what case can be made for the current TPP proposal.
Only then will I return to TF and his rhetoric.
Morality is what we owe one another directly in our face to face relations, ethics is what we owe one another through the operation of our systems, through our social, economic and political interfaces. Such interfaces, beginning with language and mathematics, are man made artifacts I'll be referring to by their ironic quality as infrastructures. These infrastructures are systems that to the extent they work appear to be natural, like the air we breathe. Words or numbers just seem to be there, the irony is that although they are our inventions, they change our underlying realities so extremely as to defamiliarize us instinctively with our resulting environment.
Even as we make them, they re-make us: as electricity, telephony, highways and aqueducts have made our cities an environment alien from the savannas on which we evolved, language and math have made our social spaces even more remote from that of our evolutionary progenitors. Language is a symbolic system that lets us say anything, math is an alternative system where everything reduces to zero. Money, which will be central to my argument, aggregates the two into a confounding system that scrambles our ethics and morals. Our
instincts evolved over hundreds of thousands of years for that savanna, our bodies and minds optimized for its particular ecology. As a subset of that time frame our urban era has only been several heart beats and has, as yet, not remade us optimized for it: we are mal-adapted to our man-made habitat because of its numerous counter intuitive infrastructures designed by our ego in denial of our id.
To describe what I mean, lets look at money. Like language, money can represent anything, but like math it always reduces to zero. Morally, some things don't reduce to zero and those particular things are important. Money is a system invented to solve the distributional problems of incipient urbanism: it co-evolved with slavery. In a pre-urban society where individual survival was a communal good, there was no need for money and no use for slavery. Anthropologically at that stage we see relationships that look like slavery but have to do with integrating captives etc into the collective: the burden of ongoing coercion necessary for slavery is to great to justify any benefit that could be extracted from an enslaved individual in a subsistence society. Urbanism changes that. A division of labor arises along with agricultural surpluses that both offers benefits to the powerful in enslaving the week and requires some measure be established to manage and distribute the surplus.
The Sumerian shekel was the amount of grain it took to feed one person for one day, it was an agricultural unit of survival administered by priests who's responsibilities included the conservation of society for their gods. So long as money remained a unit of metabolic survival, the tendency toward hoarding was easily constrained by our natural sociability: it's hard to argue morally to starve people. Monetizing it created radical new problems, but at the same time solved a multitude of others. The division of labor that arose with urbanism resulted in a plethora of outputs that required some comparative value measure to manage their distribution. The survival unit was transformed through monetization from that metabolic unit of survival into a fungible reciprocal IOU.
The temple held the grain and issued IOUs to those who produced surplus beyond their daily need. These IOUs circulated as money that always had two values: it was an asset for its current holder worth a ration of grain and a liability for the temple that would redeem it for the metabolic unit on demand. Between parties other than the temple the third party claim against the grain in the temple gave the IOU exchange value. So long as this was the case, hoarding of the medium was obviously antisocial as it directly denied access to sustenance to someone and any individual can only consume so much grain. Shifting the currency backing to rare metals incentivized precisely this sort of anti sociability: it offered a reward for the stealing of surplus production that is the definition of slavery.
As money, like any other infrastructure, becomes institutionalized, the keepers of the system it embodies become affected by their engagement in the system and its maintenance. At the same time, everyone who engaged with the system internalized its essential functional properties which then become conserved values in themselves that, while developed and deployed for the system we call money, once conserved tend to port themselves commutatively to other human endeavors. Greed, usury, hierarchy and domination begin to affect the circuits of exchange and institutionalize themselves as well. This is the process through which systems developed along moral principals recede into the sphere of infrastructure and thus systems ethics. As they do so they inevitably become aestheticized.
Seen this way, this aestheticization of morality into ethics, its institutionalization or conventionalization into fixed, aesthetic form as a system, transforms the original ethical impulse into a potentially coercive tool that once removed from its formative ethos by the aestheticization of its from, becomes available as any other tool for the power impulse driven by any other motive. If morality and necessity form a set of x/y axes, then, aesthetics form a z axis from which height or depth we judge our position relative to them aesthetically. From this model we can see that whether we are on the plus or minus side of the z axis, the plane of morality/necessity becomes more and more remote the more institutions and conventions separate our view point from the plane itself. Advanced technological societies have innumerable institutions and conventions that hold us some great distance above (or below) it. The most moral people can, from the pinnacles they achieve on the plus side re-envision our moral world and shift all the earlier points further into more positive moral territory. The opposite is equally true from the negative side.
This disquisition on money is simply the clearest example I know of of man made systems having emergent antisocial properties. And I'm not the first to notice it. It's not that these properties necessarily dominate, its that a consistent and systemic effort has to be made to keep them from doing so. This is, I believe, the central point of Burkeian conservatism. It's relevance to the present example of TPP is that we've forgotten our biblical jubilees and struggle again with the enslaving power of hoarded money, money power. The post Bretton Woods world financial order is built around the dollar, a floating fiat currency. Historically mercantilism has been the way new financial powers arise, and is the antithesis of what we imagine "free" trade to be. One should note, however as Ian Welsh did in the link at the top, that no great power has ever arisen from "free" trade, while all great imperial powers have imposed "free" trade on their satraps.
So to summarize, my world view is one that always ties back to the individual humans that are the only meaning generating entities within it capable of grappling with the affects of their own creations: people come first and power must always be structured to preserve individual rights and dignity. I am a Humanist conservative seeking to preserve the dignity of both individuals and all humanity. The dynamics of monetary exchange, trade, and finance are all fraught with power points along every vector of which money and its binary reductivist meaning can be aestheticized. This process creates a veneer behind which they can be used to impinge on those essential human rights and dignity that is their ostensible objective by rationalizing agents who, because of their remoteness from necessity fail to see or choose not to see the abuse they are causing.
This article is to date the best case I've read for something like TPP. It reviews the post Bretton Woods (BW) era of fiat mercantilism. To be fair to all the nations now engaged with it, BW was set up by the US to husband its superior position at the end of WWII as holder of the vast preponderance of both the worlds gold and productive industrial capacity. J. M. Keynes had argued hard for a system of "Bancor" as a foreign exchange currency to build in mechanisms to prevent mercantilism: we simply overrode him, we had the power. The abuses the linked authors above enumerate are all what mercantilism looks like with the post BW fiat system now in place. And again to be clear, the dominant political interests in the US very much like the power they get from the dollar's reserve currency status, much more than they dislike the "externalities" experienced by mere citizens, primarily reduced employment and wages and degraded environments all of which have been captured as money profits by those interests instead.
So, Germany and China in particular have been running a fiat vendor finance program for the last several generations, this is what mercantilism becomes with floating fiat currency: the US is no longer under any obligation to ship gold to the mercantilists at the end of the year so they are reduced to lending their dollar assets back to us. The mechanics are simple: suppress labor income to capture that as surplus value and prevent it from being spent on consumption (Hartz Reforms in Germany, The Party in China); this causes labor to not be able to afford its own output; this causes the local value of that output to decline which creates a cost advantage on export markets to the extent there is foreign demand; take the captured surplus value and buy US T bills and presto an asset held by value hoarders abroad is converted into dollars in the US domestic market creating demand pull here; export products, hoard income; rinse, repeat. The US trade deficit is the result of exactly this process and the reason we don't end it is because US multinationals make a fortune doing or skimming off these transactions and they and their agents mostly pay for our politics. Equally important, to do this you must denominate trade in our dollars and conform to our international standards: to participate you must submit to at least that much control just to ante in.
Now we already have trade agreements covering something like 80% of the trade of those nations subject to TPP so one might ask what exactly is TPP about. That's a really good question because it's secret. The article linked at the beginning of this section outlines what I think are its more or less legitimate goals: China in particular is taking advantage of our "free" trade to engage in rampant export replacement by investing heavily in economic spaces that used to be our "comparative advantage". This takes the form of what we refer to as copyright and patent infringement. Note that this is exactly what the US did between the Civil War and WWII, but it's really wicked when someone else does it. And the analogue is a pretty good one, it was European copyright and patent infringement that made New York the center of global commerce in that era where European powers tried to impose their laws overseas to protect their licensed monopolies, think Google, Apple, Facebook, whoever in IT now replacing Barings, the British and Dutch East India Companies etc.
But when you look at terms of US IP regulation you find that it gets more and more onerous and extends for ever increasing periods destroying the very principal behind it: copyright is a temporary monopoly extended for a fixed time to encourage innovation. When it becomes permanent, as our virtually has, it becomes anticompetitive and anti social. So, to the extent that China is strengthening itself through IP theft, their counter argument is our incumbents are enriching themselves through anticompetitive monopolies. The original Federalist arguments for the IP clause in the constitution support China's position better than ours. There is plenty to fix all the way around, but that's not what TPP appears to be trying to do. It is very hard to tell what it is really trying to do because only actual congressmen/women can even look at the text and they can't copy it or bring experts or look at it unattended by the authors of the text.
So what is that really about? Well the most obvious problem to surface is an extension of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) tribunal system incorporated in NAFTA and other previous trade deals. These represent a clear violation of democratic rule, and abdication of constitutional rule by Congress, where already in place, and a clear subordination of government cash flows to corporate interests. This issue alone is enough to reject the TPP and to vote out of office anyone who supports it who in an effective democracy would actually be committing treason with their supporting: it hands over power from representative government to private bureaucracies. All strong claims, but I can direct you to any number of well informed commentators who can support these claims in detail, let me know, I'd be happy to.
So that gets us to Thomas Friedman. Everyone is entitled to an opinion so I don't object to "I strongly support President Obama's efforts to conclude big", but from there on the issues proliferate! "New trade-opening agreements with our Pacific allies, including Japan and Singapore, and with the whole European Union" suggests that there are realms of trade currently significantly restricted with these nations. Agriculture is pretty much it, that's all that hasn't been liberalized, and frankly any nation that agrees to "free" primary food production is irresponsibly exposing its population to losing food security, the ability to feed itself in duress. This, like ISDS is just a really bad idea in a real world full of real risks: if that's what we're talking about liberalizing we should be clear about it.
"While I'm certain they would benefit America as a whole economically" is an assertion that is devoid of basis. Since 2009 all of the gains in income have gone to the top 1% of the income distribution. Added proposed trade changes are not likely to decelerate that trend as there is no one at all involved in the treaty negotiations representing the 99% unless you count the presidents team, but then their representation for the last six years has already resulted in all income gains going to the top 1%. Einstein's definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again expecting different results and I'm with him on this one. "I'll leave him to explain why" simply refers us back to the tendentious claims emanating from the White House, "(and how any workers who are harmed can be cushioned)" gets us back to my first point about trade being a rounding error if you don't run your economy at full employment. And to that point, notice that the only period in the post NAFT world when the benefits of "growth" in GDP "trickled down" at all was that period right at the end of the Clinton era that led to the dot.com bust.
I'm going to skip the balance of the opener because the howlers in the next paragraph are more life threatening! "Because these deals are not just about who sets the rules" glides over the front and center issue we're talking about right now. This is "fast track" authorization. Fast Track abdicates "who sets the rules" to that eminently trustworthy and results delivering White House team, except that the results they've delivered have all been for that aforementioned 1%. I'm sure they're looking out for me now, TF says so! "They're about whether we'll have a rule-based world at all" suggests there is something approaching an agreed international law before which all nations are equal when the last time I looked we went to war in Libya without any pretext from the UN or anyone else, we drone Yeminis, Pakistanis, Afgans, Somalis at our convenience under "secret" laws congress and the courts have not legislated or reviewed respectively. And that's in the realm of direct life ending executive action, if we're not constrained with life and death, it seems improbable we'll restrain ourselves elsewhere.
At last another moment of concord! "We're at a very plastic moment in global affairs - much like after World War II" indeed, yes, though maybe more like 1989, we no longer have all the worlds gold or industrial capacity but things are certainly shifting. Then, here we go again, "China is trying to unilaterally rewrite the rules" as every other ascendant state in human history has, ourselves included. I'll make no apologies for the authoritarians in China, but with regard to their devastational foot print, they're pikers compared to our impact where Friedman is about to take us. "Russia is trying to unilaterally break the rules" begs a lot of questions. Exactly who was it that falsified WMD claims to invade Iraq and is still there over a decade later? And who precisely destroyed Libya? Syria? And while your at it look at the etiology of ISIS, it was as alien from us in its birth as the Taliban whom we lavishly funded and supplied when they were a thorn in Russia's side. Oh yes, and exactly who funded the para-military coup last year in Kiev? The rules only count when "they" are breaking them.
But this next part really takes the cake: "and parts of the Arab world and Africa have lost all their rules and are disintegrating into states of nature". Yes, exactly those parts of Africa and the Arab world to which "we", that is our last two administrations, have paid the most unflinching attention and those self same parts, with the addition of pieces of the Asian subcontinent where the above mentioned drone activity occurs. "The globe is increasingly dividing between the World of Order," where Greece is being reduced to failed state status to make a financial point to Italy, Portugal and Spain, "and the World of Disorder" where we have destroyed state after state and left nothing in their place. If there is an emerging principal here, it appears to be submit to the dictates of Western Power or you will be reduced like Iraq, Libya or Greece to rubble and chaos. China and Russia, for whatever reasons, appear disinclined to do so even as we see Obama offering Abe in Japan the power his right wing government has long sought to re-militarize: go rising sun!
And in the next paragraph he has the chutzpa to double down on this willful myopia: "When you look at it from Europe - I've been in Germany and Britain the past week - you see a situation developing to the south of here that is terrifying. It is not only a refugee crisis. It's a civilizational meltdown: Libya, Syria and Iraq - the core of the Arab world - have all collapsed into tribal and sectarian civil wars, amplified by water crises and other environmental stresses". I'm dumbfounded... Did he not notice we've been at war in exactly those places for over a decade? Did he miss the trillions WE spent to produce that outcome? Does he really think that outcome somehow has an "Arab" etiology? Has he forgotten we set Bin Laden up in the first place in Afganistan? Did he miss that our Arab "friend" in the region is the extreme Wahabi monarchy Saudi Arabia that funds Islamic radicalism all over the world? Did he not notice that we have been backsliding on all issues environmental since the Nixon administration?
"But - and this is the crucial point - all this is happening in a post-imperial, post-colonial and increasingly post - authoritarian world." Wow, just plain wow. Post-imperial can pass for a representation of the current state of global affairs only if you insist on formal re-flagging of nations as the empires of the last few centuries un-selfconsciously did as the definition of imperialism: flagging is their only difference from our current imperial system where we maintain the monopoly on legitimate violence in all of our provinces, dominating their politics and economies. Obama just "allowed" Japan to re-militarize, this was not done through democratic means, but by the fiat of our executive: this is the essence of imperialism. Period.
The modern era of revolutionary politics that coincided with the Industrial Revolution is the consequence of the necessity of continuous feedback to make political economy sustainable, political revolution was required to sustain industrial revolution. The revolutionary nature of industrialization has overturned historical economic and political relationships wherever it has happened. Since industrialization has rolled out completely across what we call "the developed world," all of the social and economic relations within that sphere at least have ipso facto been revolutionized. And to the extent that that industrialization has output denominated in dollars, it is integrated into a new world empire that just authorized the re-militarization of Japan. How? Under what authority? The only answer I can come up with is the authority of empire.
I would argue, in addition, that as Anthropogenic Global Warming now affects the entire planet, in fact the whole animate world has been revolutionized by industrialization. From protozoa to elephants, all ecological relationships are now being actively affected by industrialization. A broad generalization indeed, but I can't see any defect in the claim. AGW is what economists call an "externality" to industrialization. At the twilight of the New Deal, the Nixon Administration tried to forestall or avoid this crisis by creating the EPA that would form a newly institutionalized environmental feedback loop into its arrangement of political economy. Had this order held, we would have begun the transition to an environmentally sustainable economy two generations earlier and before China and India began integrating half the worlds population into something like our system.
That the process of industrialization has sustained itself for two hundred years now is a product of political economy providing the feedbacks necessary to both the economic system that structures the relationships between ourselves and non human things and the political system that structures the relationships between humans. In the 19th and 20th century versions of industrial political economy, empires were the result of industrial weaponry and transportation technology being deployed first to command new physical resources, and then to handle the people who came with the resources in economically and politically subordinated colonial economic units. Our current version does nothing differently except for the flags.
Conquer a resource rich patch of earth: impose a colonial government: militarily subjugate its population: deprive them of means of subsistence: tax them and then provide the "opportunity" to earn the income necessary to pay the tax and regain access to subsistence. This is the basic political economy of the only thing TF seems to think constitutes an empire. Now back to section one above where I talked about money and slavery as twins, one good and one evil. The imperialism described in the first sentence of this paragraph has not disappeared simply because past colonial powers have removed their flags and begun working through local governments. Where power over the money system is unchecked by local popular feedback the monetary arrangement always tends toward slavery. Our press likes to comment on slave labor in South East Asia and the Middle East ignoring that the production there is to supply demand expressed in our dollars. Likewise the misery in Greece is a direct result of German, and behind that, our monetary policy.
In addition, this imperial monetary process has been systematically deployed by a new imperial power for the last hundred years or so that refuses to admit to its imperial nature despite subordinating a great part of the world to its political economy, that is us, the US. Our relationship to the Philippines, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Australia the entire EU, all of our NATO allies, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Canada at the very least constitute an economic imperialism that subjugates these nations with exponentially greater efficiency than sword and flag imperialism ever did. One notices, if one looks, that common standards of living in none of these subject nations have materially gained in the Post Regean era. That is without the benign intent of the center in Washington DC that made our New Deal era allies real peers rather than the satraps they've become, participation in the empire has benefitted mostly the elite and in most places, only the elite. The failure of popular living standards to improve while DC has become second only to NY in the minting millionaires gives the lie to our claims of benign intent.
It is exactly this that China and Russia are actively resisting. Again, I am not making apologies for their political or economic systems, simply pointing out that they have a rational self interest as nations in resisting subjugation by our system: since the end of the New Deal era in the 70s, our system has delivered mixed or very limited advantages to any of the entities that comprise it outside the political elite in DC, the economic elite in NY and affiliated local elites around the empire. The negative affects are growing both at the periphery and at the core. I remember being blown away by the devastation at Chernobyl and then Lake Baikal and the Sea of Azov when the USSR collapsed, but look now at Lake Mead and the larger California water problem, or the entire South West. Look at the state of marine life in our oceans. Look at Fukashima and try and tell me that we have, at this point, any better ecological feedback into our political economy than did the USSR in 1988. And it is we who stand as the main impediment to a world agreement to combat AGW.
And the coup de grace is the claim it is an increasingly "post-authoritarian world." Really? Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street and any other progressive movement is systematically surivielled to a degree J. Edgar Hoover could only dream of and managed as "terrorist threats" rather than the spine of democratic rule: since the WTO protests in Seattle political demonstrations have been treated as a national security threat and their organizations systematically infiltrated and surveilled complete with agents provocateurs. While our competition in Russia and China is clearly authoritarian at a constitutional level, look at the reaction to Jullian Assange, Wiki Leaks, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden and our current administrations legal attacks on whistle blowers and the press in general, combine that with our treatment of popular protest and the fact that we have the highest percentage of our population in jail of any country in the world and tell me exactly how we are not authoritarian. Velvet fisted, but authoritarian none the less: if you object, you won't be killed (that is, if you're white and in the West), just marginalized and crushed financially or psychologically, or jailed. The legacy of liberal democracy is not dead and might still recover, but not if we buy this pablum from TF.
The aestheticization of Americas systems and their affects here and abroad in which TF engages can only be sustained from 100,000 feet or higher. My critique here is constructed by simply setting his assertions next demonstrable historical facts. Beyond the enhanced systems of surveillance and direct physical coercion built over the last generation, the use of money as a mechanism of control, active exploitation of the dependence of all individuals in the industrial world on access to money to have access to survival, in order to produce insecurity and fear, has been the hallmark of the post Reagan era. Make people financially insecure, drive them into debt, hold them there, show them the worse conditions of those they compete with abroad and tell them "those people" are taking their jobs. This has been the narrative of "free trade" and it has been presented as inevitable and irresistible. But all of this has been political choices that have been made by those who benefit, not those who suffer the consequences.
That wages have stagnated at the late 70s level while profit growth has unrelentingly accelerated is not an accident of the post New Deal order: it has been the point. As more people take home less, which has been the case the last decade, the coercive power of the state has been systematically ramped up, ostensibly to protect us from terrorism, but in actual fact to protect an extractive system from popular protest. I cover this in more detail in Greece, Ukraine & Neoliberalism, but if you forget the flags of old school imperialism and just look at the systems of control you will see that imperialism is alive and well and has come home to roost these last three or four decades with the Midwest and second cities of America increasingly hollowed out and collapsing like any other colonial possession when the extractive well runs dry, even as our constellation of military bases abroad continues to grow. In the New Deal, at least half our foreign efforts were really directed toward the wealth sharing and growth program that was at that systems heart, but the imperial impulse was never more than half absent and with what I consider to have been a constitutional coup d'etat with the Republican bench on the Supreme Court throwing the 2000 election, imperialism finally came home to roost.
"That is, in this pluralistic region that lacks pluralism - the Middle East - we have implicitly relied for centuries on the Ottoman Empire, British and French colonialism and the kings and dictators to impose order from the top-down on all the tribes, sects and religions trapped there together." More than anything else, what has shredded this region has been our relationships with Iran and Saudi Arabia that were brokered at the end of WWII to ensure our access to cheap oil. We liked the Saudi Monarchy because it was clear who to talk to and that that individual could produce results. When Iran threatened to become a functioning popular democracy with the election Mossadegh, we overthrew him and installed the Shah. A generation latter when the clerisy there organized an overthrow of the CIAs puppet we called it Radical Islam. It has subsequently become clear that the Wahabism of Saudi Arabia is in fact much more radical than Iran has been at its worst.
All there to see in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal for those inclined to pay attention, since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan we have financed religious insurgencies all over the Muslim world. The first was led by one Ossama Bin Laden. Originally Yemenni, his family was well entrenched in the Saudi elite. A monastically pious Wahabi ideologue and possessor of his own "revealed truth", he was a religious fanatic. The lack of pluralism in this pluralistic region TF laments is one our own State Department and CIA have invested tremendous resources in. It has been very expensive to achieve this result. It's not a bug, its a feature: as they fight one another, we extract oil and sell weapons and pay contractors to fight. We sow dissension, we arm it, we fund its opposition and supply arms directly and indirectly to all. Our military industrial complex is the only remaining industrial complex with a manufacturing footprint in every state, an efficient political distribution necessitated by the markets need to fund legislators in every constituency to sustain this lucrative consumption of arms and lives.
And in the post BW era the cost to the US is the perpetual accrual of the Federal Deficit, which is after all debts denominated in a fiat money only the US government can create and thus a mathematical fiction: the accrued deficit is the price of trade being denominated in dollars the cost of who's use as a tool for global control is minuscule as compared to our direct military costs. The power of the dollar as a coercive tool world wide is real, the weight of debt to the monopoly issuer of a floating fiat currency is strictly imaginary. So what we have is a kind of dollar imperialism supplemented by a military evenly distributed around the world, except for Russia and China. I submit to you that those holes in the US military map are both the real point of TPP and the real goal of TFs rhetoric. But how can we know?
"Therefore, sustainable order - the order that will truly serve the people there - can only emerge from the bottom-up by the communities themselves forging social contracts for how to live together as equals" sounds so idealistically American, but what can it possibly mean? Here we have TF talking about "sustainable order" when he sits near the helm of the most resource destructive economic system the world has ever seen giving advice to nations on how to integrate their resources into that destruction, and resources includes their people to whom he seems to refer in the same sentence. When Nixon created the EPA the US could still make some plausible argument to be the agent of positive change in the world, but even then our devastation of Indochina was making a lie of our principals. Having regressed environmentally for the last forty years from what was recognized then as un-sustainable one wonders what TF is talking about.
And everything we have seen percolating up from the bottom, which proposition TF rhetorically lauds, we've seen beat back with truncheons, at home from the 90s on, abroad from Mossadegh in the 50s to present. The only way to make this TF statement coherent with facts in evidence is to assume that by "communities" he in fact means "corporations". This is after all the de facto functional American political unit since the Citizens United ruling. If we take this perspective, suddenly the whole proposition becomes coherent: "sustainable order" refers to profit streams now guaranteed either by foreign military policy or directly by Fed QE and other support policies for the private financial order. And if by "the people" we in fact mean the C Suites of these corporations, all the proposed policies are clear winners. As the only entities within the sphere of US power with adequate sway to impose "social contracts" are in fact corporations, we can only suppose TF is looking forward to a world where corporations respect one another as equals.
"And since that is not happening - except in Tunisia - the result is increasing disorder and a tidal wave of refugees desperately trying to escape to the islands of order: Europe, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq's Kurdistan region." This is exhausting. Wherever people have tried to join together to establish mutually agreed "social contracts", whether post war Greece in 46, Syria in 48, Iran in 53, Guatemala in 54, Indonesia in 58, Iraq in 1960 (yes, we put Saddam there in a very bloody coup), Chile in 60 or Argentina in 76, we have overthrown their efforts and installed "business friendly" authoritarians. The tidal wave of refugees is fleeing the chaos created by what is either deliberate US policy or the most criminal incompetence the world has seen in a thousand years. As congress continues to fund it and our political elite, TF included, continue to pursue these policies unchanged for 15 or 50 years, one must resign oneself to its intentionality however debased and depraved that implies our elite is.
This next bit is telling on several fronts: "At the same time, the destruction of the Libyan government of Col. Muammar el-Quaddafi, without putting boots on the ground to create a new order in the vacuum - surely one of the dumbest things NATO ever did - has removed a barrier to illegal immigration to Europe form Ghana, Senegal, Mali, Eritrea, Syria and Sudan." NATO did that, not "us". Who is NATO? And where else did we go with a shortage of boots on the ground? Oh yes, all those places that have chaos that are supplying the refugee crisis we unequivocally caused. So TF is aware of the failure of our institutions: he has here called out NATO by name. He just accepts no responsibility for their failures. This is the key to the persistence of his perspective. If you assume good intentions, then bad outcomes are obviously the outcome of incompetence. However, sustained bad outcomes of like kind over a 70 year period that continue to be funded by our political institutions suggest something quite different. There is a frame in which all this is a success, and a particular class of people benefit from that success. People like TF and his Davos compatriots.
"Here's a prediction: NATO will eventually establish "no-sail zones" - safe areas for refugees and no-go zones for people-smugglers - along the Libyan coast." God forbid actual humans might look to join a "social contract" that placed any value on their survival: NATO will protect us from that.
"What does all this have to do with trade deals?" Good question! Like my framing in the top two sections of this note, TF needed to set up the points he wanted to make. He has, however, done it with the Russian doll of nested assumptions I've tried to unpack above. "With rising disorder in the Middle East and Africa - and with China and Russia trying to tug the world their way - there has never been a more important time for the coalition of free-market democracies and democratizing states that are the core of the World of Order to come together and establish the best rules for global integration for the 21st century, including appropriate trade, labor and environmental standards." What he refers to as "the coalition" I would submit is a functional empire in terms of economic integration, hierarchy and subordination. The map of US bases supports this claim. But the subordinate clause at the end here, "labor and environmental standards" is a pathetically lame and empty propagandist addenda: we allowed Dick Cheney to void the Clean Water Act for the profit of frackers 15 years ago and have done nothing to curtail our out sized contribution to AGW.
As for labor, this brings us full circle: free trade is a rounding error if you don't run your economy for full employment. We don't and we haven't since Nixon. The wage share of labor tells the story as clearly as it can be told: employment has been constrained to prevent labor bargaining power from capturing the benefits of its own increase in productivity. As yet, there is no reason to believe the proposed TPP makes any effort all to improve this condition. As I discussed in the second section of this note above, there is a possible argument for TPP having to do with IP and mercantilism, but TF doesn't go anywhere near that. He lays out trade, labor and environmental issues as being at issue. There are no facts in evidence to support this, but then his rhetoric seems to have at best a remote concern for reality.
"These agreements would both strengthen and more closely integrate the market-based, rule-of- law based democratic and democratizing nations that form the backbone of the World of Order." In 2009, as a response to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), the SEC/FED suspended "mark to market" rules for the US financial markets. They remain suspended. This means that market makers in the US financial markets, the center of our erstwhile market based system, no longer subject themselves to price discovery: they set price for regulatory purposes according to mathematical models, not according to trades. This and QE has created something that looks like a market wherein, in fact, if you are a core player there is no risk. As Elizabeth Warren recently pointed out, our major banks have been supported through insolvency by the Fed and would not exist had "markets" prevailed.
So we don't have a market based system anymore, how about the "rule of law"? Well, I've mentioned the 2000 constitutional coup, drones and undeclared wars, then there is the "kill list", NSA surveillance and the treatment of popular protest movements as terrorist threats. I won't belabor this point, I can develop it into a post of equal length if you would like, but to say the Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street movements were and are about re-establishing "rule of law". We have a punitive system for the poor and a grotesquely tolerant one for the rich, and the richer the more tolerant. If, "the true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government," we are a very long distance from good government. We are a nation where a crime-less black teenager is murdered for running from the police while the president vaporizes people in far away lands without any check under law. Democracy and democratization have been reduced to imperial window dressing and the World of Order is one of vast power and economic asymmetries that are growing exponentially.
I can't go on, I can not see the world as Davos Man because I'm one of the particles in his jet wake! TF goes on to define a Manichean contest between our light and China's darkness that won't stand scrutiny any better than anything else in this column. China is the 800 pound gorilla while we are the meek but earnest coalition of the free. On the other hand, both China's and Russia's governments have healthy respect, if not fear, of their people. This causes them to see to it their people's lives improve. Look closely and you'll discover Putin is extremely popular because in his 15 years of authoritarianism the common person's life has improved compared to the shock doctrine era of Western Liberalism imposed by his predecessor. China's Communist Party has been delivering steadily improving standards of living since the 80s. Ours has provided only for the top. TF writes propaganda, it is only by addressing the world as it actually is that we can hope to improve our lot in it. Those who don't want us to know what is really happening in the world, or in their proposed treaties don't want us to have that choice.
So, that's all I can take of TF. It's salutary every once and a while to check back in with him to verify the Davos condition, but with each sampling I find the disease more advanced. I consider myself a conservative, as I said above I seek to conserve humanity. TF and his Davos cohort seek to conserve the most environmentally destructive and civilization damaging system the world has ever seen. The world view of this column is one of psychotically willful blindness to the responsibility of that cohort with whom the author identifies for big causal parts of all of the problems he discusses. So to the initial point, yes trade can be a good thing, but no, I have no reason to believe the current proposals are pursuing that. Their incentives are simply all wrong and when you look at what they actually do, rather than what they say, you cannot avoid the vast disconnect. Bless his heart, TF, by internalizing so much of the elite view, is extremely efficient at laying out what is wrong with it, particularly because he thinks he's doing the opposite.