I haven’t had anything to say about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) up until now. The truth is that there isn’t a lot to say. It is yet another trade agreement and that is pretty much always a bad idea in an economy that is as unequal as the one we have in America today.
The issue is quite simple. Under ideal circumstances, such a deal would allow more trade so that both sides would get richer. And in an economy with relative income equality, those extra riches would be broadly shared. But in an economy such as ours, almost all of the extra money would go to the owners of capital. Of course, these people are already doing as well as they ever have. So why are we even bothering with such a deal? Surely we could better use our resources.
We know why there is a big push for the TPP, of course. The rich want it. Now I’m not saying that just because the rich want something that means it is bad. But it is most clearly the case that we are not discussing the TPP because a bunch of politicians got together and decided that it would be broadly beneficial for the nation. And it turns out that—Get ready for a surprise!—the TPP is not broadly beneficial for the nation. In fact, it is estimated that within 10 years, the TPP will increase GDP by 0.13%. In other words, a negligible amount that will be so far in the noise as to not even be measurable.
As Dean Baker has discussed, we already have relatively few barriers to trade with the countries involved. So if the deal isn’t about reducing barriers to trade, what is it about? “Rather the point of the deal is to put in place a structure of regulations that will be more friendly to the large corporations who are in many cases directly part of the negotiating process.” Mostly this is exactly the opposite of free trade. It is an effort to make pharmaceutical companies and Hollywood studios even more wealthy.
The big thing about all of the “free” trade deals that we’ve signed over the last few decades is how targeted they are. It is always middle and lower income workers who are put in direct competition with cheap labor over seas. It is never doctors and lawyers. So while the wages of the poorer classes go down, the cost of living stays high because these politically connected rich folk can’t ever be forced to compete globally. Add to that increased prices on drugs and entertainment and you’ve got an outrage that isn’t discussed in the mainstream media. It is outside the Overton Window. It is just assumed as God given that trade agreements should only affect the middle class and never the upper class, except in so much as it enriches them.
Of course, if the TPP passes, it won’t be a big deal. It will be a huge windfall for certain industries and companies. But for the economy generally, it will just be another step in our long journey to neo-feudalism. But it is interesting that at the same time that Obama is supposedly focused on income inequality, his administration is working—largely in secret—to negotiate a trade deal that will push more money to the wealthy at the expense of the rest.
The whole thing highlights what I am most focused on in the area of politics. When it comes to economic issues, we don’t have anything like liberalism in the United States. The Democrats are conservative and the Republicans (in as much as they make any sense at all) are revolutionary. The sad thing is that it looks like our only chance to stop the TPP is via the revolutionaries. The Democratic Party is so used to thumbing its nose at the liberal base, I don’t think it matters how much we yell and scream about this.
This does not mean that we shouldn’t yell and scream about the TPP as well the administration’s efforts to fast-track it. Do yell and scream! Raise your voice. Write your Congress members. This is important. Above all, it is important the Democratic Party understand these economic issues are the things that really matter to us as well as the rest of America. If they want us to show up and vote for them, they have to offer more than a handful of liberal social issues. And last time I checked, same-sex marriage isn’t a liberal issue. It’s an everyone issue. (Freaks aside.)