“Free Trade” Is Today’s Imperialism by the 1 Percent


Building alternatives to free trade must become an essential component of a more progressive US foreign policy.

Opposition to “free” trade is clearly growing — both the progressive and the corporate elements of the Democratic Party are now critical of agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Less clear are the alternatives to free trade that might emerge. As progressives continue to build power inside and outside of the Democratic Party, we must clarify our understanding of the international political economy, and imagine and begin to build real alternatives to free trade. Building these alternatives must become an essential component of a more progressive US foreign policy.

The conventional wisdom says that if you oppose free trade, you must support protectionism or economic nationalism. This is misleading. There is no such thing as “free” trade. People create all of the systems that govern our political economy. These systems inevitably favor certain human activities over others, and we can design them to act any way that we want. The important question is: For whom are trade policies “free”? Put another way: Who do trade policies favor?

Debunking “Free” Trade

“Free” trade is free only for capital owners: the plutocratic few who own and control multinational corporations. When countries enter into free trade agreements, the governments of both countries effectively agree that their laws will not favor businesses from their country over businesses from any other countries. The main way that free trade does this is by attempting to reduce all tariffs to as close to 0 percent as possible, to eliminate import quotas that countries can use to limit the amount and types of goods imported from specified countries, and to discourage countries from more directly subsidizing their own businesses.

Far from promoting freedom for everyone, “free” trade empowers multinationals from the global North to control the world political economy in two important ways. First, free trade facilitates global North multinationals to maintain the unequal trade they established with the global South during colonialism. This increases inequalities of power and wealth between global North and global South. Second, free trade empowers global North multinationals to plan the world economy alongside global South multinationals, the junior partners of the global North multinationals, and to pit working-class people in the global North and global South against one another.

Thus, free trade is the modern form that imperialism takes. Throughout US history, the US government has used military force to expand free trade throughout the world. For more than a century, US-backed military coups and US-backed military dictatorships have led to partnerships between the US government, US multinationals and local elites across the globe that are built around creating trade that concentrates wealth for multinationals. This remains a core source of violence in the world with many implications. Today, for instance, Central American refugees at the southern US border are criminalized for fleeing a history of US military coups and intervention in Central America and the neoliberal trade policies that US multinationals and local elites created in their aftermath…

Source: “Free Trade” Is Today’s Imperialism by the 1 Percent


If Everything Is So ‘Wunderbar’ in Germany, Why Are the Voters So Unhappy?

The country’s two-tier economy that Merkel championed is creating more economic misery. When she leaves, will a “German Trump” be next?

How do you say, “dead woman walking” in German? Today, the answer to that question is “Angela Merkel” after the German leader announced that she would be seeking neither re-election as chancellor in 2021, nor re-election as head of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party later this year in December.

… But there’s another side to this story. However highly regarded, Chancellor Merkel has repeatedly led governments, coalition or otherwise, which championed the neoliberal dismantling of the country’s “social market economy,” especially in services. Her government also pushed and prodded the rest of the EU in a comparable direction. In Germany specifically, the end result has been the growth of a two-tiered economy, which has heightened economic insecurity, created declining living standards for much of the population, and exacerbated inequality. In other words, too little “social,” too much “market.”

Source: If Everything Is So ‘Wunderbar’ in Germany, Why Are the Voters So Unhappy?

Climate of Class Rule:  Common(s)er Revolt or Common Ruin

Extreme weather and its collateral damage are only tips of the melting iceberg, semi-metaphorically speaking. The real climatological shit hits the eco-exterminist fan when we can’t grow enough food, find enough water, and keep ourselves cool enough to survive – and when global warming combines with collapsing social and technical infrastructure to bring pandemics that  wipe out much of an increasingly thirsty, under-nourished, and over-heated human race…

Source: Climate of Class Rule:  Common(s)er Revolt or Common Ruin

The Slaves Rebel

You might not know it, but there is a major revolt happening right now in the United States.. The only way to end slavery is to stop being a slave. Hundreds of men and women in prisons in some 17 states are refusing to carry out prison labor, conducting hunger strikes or boycotting for-profit commissaries in an effort to abolish the last redoubt of legalized slavery in America. The strikers are demanding to be paid the minimum wage, the right to vote, decent living conditions, educational and vocational training and an end to the death penalty and life imprisonment.

Source: The Slaves Rebel

The Philanthropy Racket

Leymah Gbowee, Nick Kristof, Laurel Weldon, and Melinda Gates speaking at Goalkeepers 2017 in New York City. Goalkeepers is organized by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images.

Philanthropy is how the global elite cast themselves as do-gooders — the people destroying the world are posing as its saviors.

As Anand Giridharadas argues in his indispensable new book, Winners Take All, “There is no denying that today’s elite may be among the more socially concerned elites in history. But it is also, by the cold logic of numbers, among the most predatory.”

As wages stagnate and decline, and income and housing supports are viciously winnowed away, a new brand of philanthropic do-goodism aims to transform social relief into entrepreneurial opportunity. In big-name corporate consultancies like McKinsey, at global meeting grounds like Davos, Aspen and Doha, within the warm self-admiring glow of the Clinton Global Initiatives (CGI), the very class profiting from global inequality convenes in search of ways to ameliorate its symptoms—profitably, of course, via a stable of “disruptive” market-driven interventions in healthcare, transportation, housing and other spheres that are sold to investors as ingenious ways of hacking society.

The perverse dogma behind such initiatives is the mantra “win-win”—the notion that social reform need never entail any cost to corporate bottom lines. As one of its chief theorists, former TechCrunch reporter Greg Ferenstein explains, if you assume the public sector is fundamentally at odds with the market:

You worry about disparities in wealth. You want labor unions to protect workers from corporations. You want a smaller government to get out of the way of business. If you don’t make that assumption, and you believe that every institution needs to do well, and they all work with each other, you don’t want unions or regulation or sovereignty or any of the other things that protect people from each other.

He sums up this government-market synergy, daftly, as “Optimism.” After all, the neoliberal elite has found a remedy for the savage inequalities of the market—a suite of cosmetic social fixes that abide by market logic, such as micro-loans and school vouchers.

Giridharadas supplies a lacerating critique of this quisling rationale by virtue of knowing it firsthand; he’s a former McKinsey consultant and Aspen Institute fellow who’s done the rounds of TED talks. His insider access allows him to tease out the intellectual and moral failures of our Optimist overlords in a devastating portrait of the “network and community” and “culture and state of mind” he calls “MarketWorld”:

These elites believe and promote the idea that social change should be pursued principally through the free market and voluntary action, not public life and the law and the reform of the systems that people share in common; that it should be supervised by the winners of capitalism and their allies, and not be antagonistic to their needs; and that the biggest beneficiaries of the status quo should play a leading role in the status quo’s reform.

As Giridharadas notes, defending MarketWorld requires no end of distortions and diminutions of social thought. The social psychologist Amy Cuddy, for instance, delivered one of the most successful TED talks in history by presenting feminist activism largely as a matter of adopting tweaks to personal comportment in the workplace, such as “power postures.” Such glosses on social conflict, Giridharadas writes, “have given rise to watered-down theories of change that are personal, individual, depoliticized, respectful of the status quo and the system, and not in the least bit disruptive.” Bruno Giussani, the TED official who hosted Cuddy’s talk, concedes as much, noting he’d even coined a term for the elite evasion of social conflict: “Pinkering,” after the Harvard linguist Steven Pinker’s argument that the arc of history is bending ineluctably toward world peace.

Reporting from the last convocation of the CGI, Giridharadas quotes former President Bill Clinton’s valedictory address to this High Church of MarketWorld. “Good people, committed to creative cooperation, have almost unlimited positive impact to help people today and give our kids better tomorrows,” Clinton intoned. “This is all that does work in the modern world.” Giridharadas rightly dubs this latter claim “astonishing”—it’s redolent of Margaret Thatcher’s insistence that there was simply “no alternative” to untrammeled capitalist rule.

Giussani suggests that such Olympian narratives of elite reassurance serve to dismiss any critical perspective as backward and unenlightened: “Your problems don’t really matter compared to the past’s, and your problems are not really problems, because things are getting better.”

Asked whether all this flagrant Pinkering had contributed to the backlash of pseudo-populist anger now roiling the West, Giussani avers, “Of course that distortion contributed. I believe even that it is one of the biggest engines of it.” Nevertheless, the lead theorists of MarketWorld hope to ride out the present crisis by cleaving to their pet shibboleths more firmly than ever. The surprise “yes” vote on Brexit, for instance, prompted Clinton to observe that Brexit supporters simply “had no idea what they were doing.” As Giridharadas drily notes, “The people setting themselves the task of understanding the anger around them were precommitted to the idea that the anger had no possible basis in reason or conscious choice.”

And that, by and large, is the discursive world we continue to inhabit since the election of Trump. MarketWorld’s hireling political mouthpieces stolidly insist that all is fundamentally well in the world—that Democratic leaders are being targeted by the Trumpian forces of darkness because they’re “effective,” as Pelosi outlandishly claimed in a recent Rolling Stone interview. In point of fact, of course, the neoliberal dream of governance has been a grotesque bust, with Pelosi’s Democrats facing the lowest ebb of political influence in America since 1924. But that’s a bitter truth that will never penetrate the high-priced pageants of neoliberal self-congratulation.

Source: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/08/the-philanthropy-racket

The High Cost of Denying Class War by Yanis Varoufakis – Project Syndicate

… For all their self-image as progressives, the elites’ readiness to ignore widening class divisions, and to replace it with class-blind identity politics, was the greatest gift to toxic populism. In Britain, the Labour Party (under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and Edward Miliband) was too coy even to mention the post-2008 intensification of the class war against the majority, leading to the rise across the Labour heartland of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), with its Brexit parochialism.

Polite society seemed not to give a damn that it had become easier to get into Harvard or Cambridge if you were black than if you were poor. They deliberately ignored that identity politics can be as divisive as apartheid if allowed to act as a lever for overlooking class conflict…

The rise of populism on both sides of the Atlantic is being investigated psychoanalytically, culturally, anthropologically, aesthetically, and of course in terms of identity politics. The only angle left unexplored is the one that holds the key to understanding what is going on: the unceasing class war waged against the poor since the late 1970s.

Source: The High Cost of Denying Class War by Yanis Varoufakis – Project Syndicate

Social Democracy’s Breaking Point

By Peter Frase

We need a politics that acknowledges that the social-democratic class compromise is unsustainable.

Patrick Iber and Mike Konczal have an essay at Dissent in which they use the Bernie Sanders phenomenon as an opportunity to explain the theories of Karl Polanyi, and what they mean for the future of progressive politics. Polanyi was a Hungarian emigré to Vienna and later England and the United States, a veteran of the interwar period that gave us the Great Depression and the rise of fascism.

His most famous work, The Great Transformation, was written in the 1930s and 1940s. In it, he attempted to diagnose the failures of the free-market capitalism of his time, which in his view had given rise to the reaction and war he lived through.

His central point, and the one which has been most influential on contemporary liberals, is that there has never been any such thing as an unfettered or natural free market.

Rather, all really existing social formations involve complex ties between people based on a variety of norms and traditions. As Iber and Konczal put it, “the economy is ’embedded’ in society — part of social relations — not apart from them.”

For this reason, the attempt to establish unfettered and unregulated markets is doomed: a pure free-market society is a utopian project, and impossible to realize, because people will resist the process of being turned into commodities.

This is an important insight, and to this point there’s not much about it that I can disagree with. The problem arises when one tries to derive a complete political strategy from this analysis. This is where I part ways with the Polanyian analysis that Iber and Konczal offer.

They suggest that the vision of “socialism” offered by Polanyi, and also by Bernie Sanders, ultimately just involves subjecting capitalism to some humane and democratic limits. They quote a passage in which Polanyi defines socialism as “the tendency inherent in an industrial civilization to transcend the self-regulating market by consciously subordinating it to a democratic society.”

Continue reading at: Social Democracy’s Breaking Point

A despot in disguise: one man’s mission to rip up democracy | George Monbiot | Opinion | The Guardian

James McGill Buchanan’s vision of totalitarian capitalism has infected public policy in the US. Now it’s being exported • George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

It’s the missing chapter: a key to understanding the politics of the past half century. To read Nancy MacLean’s new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, is to see what was previously invisible.

The history professor’s work on the subject began by accident. In 2013 she stumbled across a deserted clapboard house on the campus of George Mason University in Virginia. It was stuffed with the unsorted archives of a man who had died that year whose name is probably unfamiliar to you: James McGill Buchanan. She says the first thing she picked up was a stack of confidential letters concerning millions of dollars transferred to the university by the billionaire Charles Koch

Continue to full story: A despot in disguise: one man’s mission to rip up democracy | George Monbiot | Opinion | The Guardian