This month the US Congress could pass legislation that would make sure that complex trade agreements favored by multinational corporations – like the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) – would be pushed through Congress with little debate and little information provided to the public. This so-called “fast-track” authority – and the trade agreements it is designed to facilitate – would seriously undermine what remains of US democracy. We invite you to act on this matter soon as your conscience dictates.
In my blog post The rapid growth of serious responses to climate disruption I mentioned the movement to protest the secretly negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) that could have profound impacts on democracy, on public health and welfare, and on the fate of the planet.
This issue has now become urgent.
On January 9, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Rep. Camp (R-MI) introduced the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014 to promote the President’s “fast track” authority. This bill would facilitate passage of deeply flawed trade agreements such as the TPP with little deliberation or even input from the public and Congress. This issue is important right now because a vote on this bill is expected before the end of the month.
“Fast track” means that the President would sign an international agreement and then send it to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote within 3 months with no room for amendments and a maximum of 20 hours of floor debate.
This hasty approach to trade agreements may have been a bit more reasonable when it was first used in 1974 when trade pacts only involved traditional trade issues like tariffs and quotas.
But today it just doesn’t make democratic sense. It is promoted by the corporations and investors who profit from these agreements – and by public officials and media who they support or who share their monetized worldview. But the lack of debate doesn’t help the vast majority of us because today’s big trade pacts cover a broad range of issues that impact us every day, including the environment, investment policy, labor, government procurement, consumer protections and many more things. These things need to be considered very carefully. It is therefore critical for Congress to maintain its constitutional authority to oversee trade policy – and for us in the grassroots to ensure that Congress approves only trade pacts that protect communities, workers, consumers, and the environment BEFORE such pacts get finalized.
TPP is an alarming case in point. It contains clauses allowing foreign companies to directly sue national governments in private trade tribunals to either nullify laws and policies that might reduce their corporate profits or to suffer very steep financial penalties. This makes companies more powerful than democratically elected governments. It would devastate the ability of citizens and national, state, and local governments to pass environmental, labor, and consumer protection laws that protect our communities and our children.
To make matters worse, we’re being blocked from discussing all this in an intelligent, informed manner. Except for a few leaks from WikiLeaks and others, most legislators, the public, and the press have no access to the evolving content of this agreement. To a remarkable extent, that privilege has been reserved for a select few trade representatives and corporations who will benefit from the TPP, with the periodic negotiations continuing in secret. A few Congresspeople on key committees have access to the draft agreement in a guarded room where they cannot take notes and are forbidden to communicate what they might read in its many hundreds of detailed, complex pages. What’s going on here?
Senator Elizabeth Warren says “I have heard the argument that transparency would undermine the Trade Representative’s policy to complete the trade agreement because public opposition would be significant. In other words, if people knew what was going on, they would stop it. This argument is exactly backwards. If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.” (I appreciate Sen. Warren’s straightforward articulation, rare among politicians.)
It might be a different story if most trade agreements like TPP actually enhanced the quality of life for citizens and our prospects for future generations. But they don’t. They are most often broadly damaging to all ordinary people concerned and to the natural and social commons we share. As a Popular Resistance newsletter notes, “The TPP is an issue that unites the movement because it affects not just workers but the environment, regulation of finance, Internet freedom, food safety, and healthcare and gives corporations control of virtually every aspect of our lives.”
If you find yourself concerned about the implications of all this, please get better informed and take appropriate action soon.
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THE BIGGER-PICTURE REASON FOR OPPOSING TPP AND FAST TRACK
The message above and the links below come largely from a progressive populist perspective – protecting US jobs, democratic governance, and the environment. However, many on the Right are also upset about TPP and Fast Track, particularly because those initiatives involve a significant loss of US sovereignty. On the other hand, some commentators favor TPP because, while jobs are lost in the US, employment and middle class life in other countries may improve. All these arguments are worth discussing. But none of them addresses the most important and least discussed argument: Society’s urgent need for rapid transformation toward sustainability.
I believe that TPP represents a societal “tipping point” in our ability to shift civilization from self-destruction to sustainability. Most immediately it would gut our capacity to protect people and nature from ruinous exploitation and to ameliorate runaway climate change. But that is only one way that TPP – and most other proposals and arguments from both the Left and the Right – fail to turn our civilizational TItanic from its fatal course to collapse and possible extinction.
Truly addressing climate change – AND peak oil AND many other emerging crises – requires that we shift our global economy away from consumption (especially emissions-generating consumption) towards a low impact, high quality way of life. This involves a shift from wasteful material production and trade to enhancing people’s ability to live healthy enjoyable lives together without lots of stuff.
Part of that would include REDUCING employment – in ways that would actually make life better. Imagine if we used technology not so much to increase productivity for profit but to make employment one option among many — to “de-job” the economy into something more sustainable and enjoyable. What if we applied our technological wizardry
- to take over more and more jobs (remember the old term “labor saving devices”?) in a way that made 50% unemployment and a 20 hour work week actually attractive norms, augmented by a lot of passion-driven small entrepreneurship and simple living;
- to enable more do-it-yourself, collaborative, and local production – from 3D printers and high-tech gardens to crowdsourced games and modular, long-lasting designs for products;
- to encourage and enable bartering and sharing (especially locally) of most physical resources – car shares, tool shares, book shares, garden produce shares – so that we all don’t need to produce, store, and transport so much stuff in the first place; and
- to enable gifting, sharing, and co-creating more of what really makes life good – learning, thinking, loving, appreciating, dreaming, accomplishing, feeling secure, pursuing our personal interests and passions, and just having fun together. These are exactly the kinds of things that today we don’t have much time for because we need to work and shop and consume lots of “stuff” that actually doesn’t make us so happy.
If our national and global economic policies were designed to move towards THAT sort of economy, the loss of jobs in the US would become an asset, while global trade could be about increasing the ability of people in “developing” nations to have enough of the right kinds of stuff to reduce struggle and suffering while not drawing them into the profit-driven, anxiety-ridden, unsustainable consumption rat-race that Western civilization desperately needs to recover from.
This brief description only hints at the tip of a vast sense of possibility that is emerging among alternative economists and others (including us here). Pursuing those remarkable possibilities will take a focused and sustained effort. In the meantime, it is urgent that we head off developments like the TPP and Fast Track that would make it even more difficult – if not impossible – to change the course of civilization towards a world that truly works for all of us, in a truly deep, wonderful, and sustainable way.