Trans-Pacific Partnership: Corporate Power Unbound

John Miller, Guest Blogger

Originally published in Dollars & Sense (July/August 2015).

The case [for opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership] put forth by a showboating Sen. Elizabeth Warren is almost worse than wrong. It is irrelevant.

Less than 10 percent of the AFL-CIO’s membership is now in manufacturing. It’s undeniable that American manufacturing workers have suffered terrible job losses. We could never compete with pennies-an-hour wages. Those low-skilled jobs are not coming back.

Some liberals oddly complain that American efforts to strengthen intellectual property laws in trade deals protect the profits of U.S. entertainment and tech companies. What’s wrong with that?

Then we have Warren stating with a straight face that handing negotiating authority to Obama would “give Republicans the very tool they need to dismantle Dodd-Frank.”

—Froma Harrop, “The Left Is Wrong on Fast-Track Trade Issue,” Spokesman Review, May 16, 2015.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) sounds more like an international consortium of corporate law firms than a trade deal. That’s for good reason. TPP is less about trade than about corporate- dominated globalization.

But that’s all a mystery to Froma Harrop, liberal columnist, business writer, and robotic Obama supporter. (Obama has pushed hard for the TPP.) Why should the AFL-CIO, with so few members in manufacturing, oppose this trade deal, Harrop asks? And what so wrong with protecting corporate profits by enforcing intellectual property rights, as the TPP would?

The answer is plenty. And that’s especially true now that the Obama administration and both Republicans and corporate Democrats in Congress have engineered the passage of the “fast-track authority,” guaranteeing an up or down vote for the TPP.

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The Slow Burn

The Washington Consensus and Long-Term Austerity in Latin America

Raul Zelada Aprili and Gerald Friedman, Guest Bloggers

This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of Dollars & Sense.

For over thirty years after World War II, Latin American governments promoted economic growth and development through policies that favored domestic industrialization. Capital controls (restrictions on international capital mobility) and trade protections helped promote “import substitution”—producing goods domestically that previously had been imported—rather than exports. Most Latin American countries—including those, like Chile and Brazil, where democratically elected leftist governments were overthrown in the 1960s and 1970s—reversed course to adopt “neoliberal” economic policies. Rather than stimulating growth through import substitution, the new policies sought to promote export-led growth by exploiting the region’s main “comparative advantage,” low-wage labor. Labeled the “Washington Consensus” by British economist John Williamson, these policies failed to promote economic growth, but did dramatically widen the gap between rich and poor. In recent years, the return of democratic governance has led most Latin American countries to abandon the failed neoliberal experiment, bringing renewed growth and narrowing inequality.

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Reigning Without Respect

Sad Tale of Higher Education Reform in India

Deepankar Basu and Debarshi Das, Guest Bloggers

Early in April, this year, the University Grants Commission (UGC)—the primary institution responsible for allocation of grants related to and maintenance of standards of higher education in India—came up with a proposal to introduce a Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) in Indian universities that has generated intense controversy. While university administrations have generally been in favor of the proposal—with 18 central universities adopting it soon after the UGC announcement—teachers and students have been much more critical. Joint protests by students and teachers, and even fisticuffs between left and right wing student organizations, have been reported from Delhi University in the national capital of the country.

The proposal to introduce a CBCS follows the UGC’s attempts, over the past few years, to move higher educational institutes in the country from an annual to a semester-based system. This move has often been opposed by teachers and students. Now, the CBCS consolidates the semester-based system and adds to it a proposal for uniform syllabi and evaluation systems across universities.

What is the reason for the CBCS? According to the UGC, diversity of evaluation systems followed by different universities has hurt students because of lack of “acceptance of their credentials” across the university system and employment agencies. The CSBS is being visualized as the way to solve this problem by ensuring “seamless mobility of students across the higher education institutions in the country and abroad,” and also across “employment agencies.”

In a detailed and thoughtful article published in the Economic and Political Weekly, a group of teachers from Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University have questioned the whole framework underlying the UGC proposal. They have pointed out, correctly in our opinion, that one of the main problems facing higher education in contemporary India is a severe problem of excess demand—there are too many aspirants and too few places, especially in better institutions. Thus, the major reason behind students not being able to move is the extreme selectivity arising from the gross mismatch of demand and supply. It has very little to do with incompatibility of courses or evaluation methods across institutions. It stands to reason then that the CSBS will not address the main problem it is supposedly meant to address.

Even as the CSBS proposal does not and possibly cannot “solve” the problem that the UGC suggests has called it forth, it might have other, intended or unintended, implications that are worth considering.

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What We’re Writing, What We’re Reading

What We’re Writing

Patrick Bond, ‘World Political Economy’ Meets South Africa’s Many Marxisms

C.P. Chandrasekhar and Jayati Ghosh, Economic Forecasts and Reality: Should we believe the World Bank?

Léonce Ndikumana, Integrated Yet Marginalized: Implications of Globalization for African Development

What We’re Reading

Agence France-Presse, Spanish anti-austerity party and US economist launch green energy plan

James K. Gablraith, Greece Has Made Tough Choices. Now It’s the IMF’s Turn

T. Sabri Öncü, When Will the Next Financial Crisis Start?

June Zaccone, The Trans Pacific Partnership: A Corporate Wish-List

Triple Crisis welcomes your comments. Please share your thoughts below.

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What if the Euro Area is Led to Serious Deflation?

Philip Arestis and Malcolm Sawyer

The economies of the euro area monetary union are close to deflation. In May 2015, the annual rate of inflation averaged 0.3% across the euro area, after six months during which the rate of inflation had been zero or below. The question then arises as to whether the deflation has been internally or externally generated, whether it becomes self-perpetuating, and what the consequences would be.

The dramatic drop in global oil prices have had a significant effect in the reduction of the rate of inflation, though with some recent rises, this dampening effect on inflation may have come to an end. The threat of zero or negative inflation means that households and firms, which are heavily indebted, find it difficult to service their debt, partly because its real value increases with falling prices and also because current household income is falling and firms are reluctant to invest in view of expected falling demand.

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Promise Me the Monsoon

Sunita Narain

Why this weird weather? Why have western disturbances—the extra-tropical storms that originate in the Mediterranean and Atlantic seas—been lashing us again and again, with devastating impacts on agriculture? Is this normal? Or has weird weather become the new definition of normal?

The India Meteorological Department says the severe and unseasonal rain this year has been because of the confluence of western disturbances with the easterlies from the Bay of Bengal which is normal. But what they cannot explain is why the frequency of the western disturbances has increased and why the impact of this confluence is being felt all the way up to central India which is unusual and definitely not normal.

Indian scientists are extremely cautious about using the CC—climate change—word. But it is now widely recognised that warming is making the world’s weather more unstable and extreme. How much is the question. Scientists would agree on saying that although no single extreme weather event could be attributed to climate change, the increased frequency and intensity of such events is definitely because of human-made climate change. Now, this science is becoming more exact. A recent paper published in Nature Climate Change finds that the observed average global warming of 0.85°C is responsible for 75 per cent of the daily heat extremes and 18 per cent of the precipitation extremes. More worrying is the conclusion that as the temperature increases to 2°C—which is likely, given the lack of global effort in cutting greenhouse gas emissions—40 per cent of the rainfall extremes will be linked to human-made climate change.

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Avaaz’s Climate Vanity

Upward gazing can be politically blinding

Patrick Bond

Who’s not heard the great African revolutionary Amilcar Cabral’s injunction, fifty years ago, “Tell no lies and claim no easy victories”? If, like me, you’re a petit bourgeois who is hopeful for social progress, then let’s be frank: this advice hits at our greatest weakness, the temptation of back-slapping vanity.

The leading framers for the 41-million strong clicktivist team from Avaaz need to remember Cabral. They over-reached ridiculously last week in praising the G7:

Bond Avaaz

Many told us it was a pipe dream, but the G7 Summit of leading world powers just committed to getting the global economy off fossil fuels forever!!! Even the normally cynical media is raving that this is a huge deal. And it’s one giant step closer to a huge win at the Paris summit in December – where the entire world could unite behind the same goal of a world without fossil fuels – the only way to save us all from catastrophic climate change… Our work is far from done, but it’s a day to celebrate – click here to read more and say congratulations to everyone else in this incredibly wonderful community!!

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Local Food and the CASTE Paradigm

Anita Dancs and Helen Scharber, Guest Bloggers

Anita Dancs is an associate professor of economics at Western New England University.

Helen Scharber is an assistant professor of economics at Hampshire College.

Food produced on small farms close to where it is consumed—or “local food” for short—accounts for only about 2% of all the food produced in the United States today, but demand for it is growing rapidly. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sales of food going directly from farmers’ fields to consumer’s kitchens have more than tripled in the past twenty years. During the same period, the number of farmers’ markets in the United States has quintupled, and it’s increasingly easy to talk about “CSAs”—community-supported agriculture operations where consumers pay up front for a share in the season’s output—without explaining the acronym.

But as local food has grown, so have the number of critics who claim that locavores have a dilemma. The dilemma, prominently argued by Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu in their 2012 book The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-mile Diet, is that local food conflicts with the goal of feeding more people better food in an ecologically sustainable way. In other words, well-meaning locavores are inadvertently promoting a future characterized by less food security and greater environmental destruction. The critics are typically academics, and while not all of them are economists, they rely on economic arguments to support their claims that the globalized food chain has improved our lives.

Why are critics pessimistic about the trend toward local food? Their arguments hinge on what we call the CASTE paradigm—the idea that Comparative Advantage and economies of Scale justify global Trade and lead to greater Efficiency.

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