Home National Politics The Worst Danger from the TPP

The Worst Danger from the TPP


This piece will run in newspapers in Virginia’s 6th District.

Most of the criticism of our trade deals has focused on the very real problem of jobs and decent wages for American workers. But we hear curiously little about what, in the long run, would likely prove the worst thing about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): a provision that would seriously erode our national sovereignty.

This provision would establish what is called the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), through which corporations could sue governments over various things, including “expropriation.” The problem is that “expropriation” includes any regulation that negatively affects the future profits of corporations.

The effect would be to make money-making not only the most important thing but the only thing. “Infringing on future profits is presented as a theft deserving of compensation,” as one article describes it.

Although the global corporate system is structured to be concerned only with profits, human beings have many other values as well. People want their society not only to be productive, but also to do such things as protect the public health, prevent the poisoning of the water and the air, and assure that workers are safe on the job. People elect governments to protect those other values.

But the TPP — by treating “infringing on future profits [as] a theft deserving compensation” – would penalize and intimidate governments trying to balance profit-maximization with other values.

(Already, under previous such agreements, Australia and Britain have been sued by tobacco companies for requiring plain packaging on cigarettes as a way of impeding people becoming addicted to nicotine.)

The “courts” established by the TPP would render decisions to which there would be no appeal. These decisions would be made by panels of corporate lawyers, whose conflicts of interest would not be tolerated in judges in American courts.

TPP strips from our democratically-elected government powers granted by our Constitution and hands them over to the global corporate system.

For nearly half a century, I have studied pathologies of power systems—how difficult it is for peoples to control their destinies because the systems in which they live take control and drive societies toward outcomes the people would never have chosen.

Every age produces its own form of inhumane power, against which people must struggle to live decent lives.

In Europe, in the anarchy following the collapse of the Roman order, warlords emerged to dominate local populations. With no order above these localities, no one was secure, and these warlords – eventually to be called “nobles” – were compelled to build their castles and towns on difficult but defensible hilltops. It was a time ruled by the sword, and the dominant people were those best at hacking their enemies to pieces.

Over centuries, the local areas under the sway of the warlords got consolidated into larger nation-states. The descendants of the warlords who’d conquered and ruled small areas were now refined “aristocrats,” who could exploit the common people through their long-established control over the land. But meanwhile they themselves were brought into subjugation to kings who exercised absolute power by supposed “divine right.” Although cities were no longer built like fortresses, the scourge of war continued among these larger states, and their peoples remained powerless to choose their destinies.

The America’s democratic revolution provided its people with the means of ruling themselves, creating an order based on “the consent of the governed” and on a notion that human beings had been created equal.

The revolution to enable people to rule themselves has been enormously successful, beginning on this continent and then spreading outward across the planet.

But, when it comes to pathologies of power, we’re not out of the woods yet.

The TPP is a step toward a dystopian future shaped not by the people, making decisions collectively according to their full range of values and concerns, but by a system structured around the values of Mammon. It is a sterile future threatened by a global corporate system essentially answerable to no one. Like a machine on automatic pilot.

This corporate system — having already undertaken to steal our democracy here at home (e.g. in the decision handed down by corporate-allied Supreme Court justices in Citizens United, giving corporate wealth greater power over elections at the expense of the citizenry) – now seeks to use TPP to take power directly from government itself.

Over the years we’ve had more than a few false alarms about losing our sovereignty. (70 years in the UN have not decreased our sovereignty, and the Agenda 21 issue was just a fantasy based on a misunderstanding.)

But this danger from the TPP is the real deal.


  • Andy Schmookler

    There has been some discussion, behind the scenes, about how what I say here about the TPP can be true, when President Obama is pushing this agreement and when he is considered by so many of us — including me — to be generally a very good guy.

    I have no explanation, but I feel confident about the validity of what I say here. Assuming that to be true, some possibilities:

    Does the president somehow not know all of the implications of the agreement he’s pushing? A friend of mine has said that the President found out only after some years that his administration was implementing a deportation policy much harsher than what he’d asked for. I don’t know if that’s true– it seems hard to imagine that no one would have informed the president of such a thing when the alleged discrepancy between the president’s intent and what was being done under his authority became visible. But if it is true, it would be a relevant precedent.

    Does the president consider the TPP worth it for some other reason– e.g. as a way of containing China’s power (as it is said)? If so, then the question arises: would the parts of the agreement important to the president been impossible to achieve without also abetting this corporate power-grab? That seems somewhat hard to imagine.

    Or does the president — contrary to our image of him — endorse this loss of sovereignty to the global corporate system? Hard to believe. But then, I’ve found quite puzzling some other things that Obama has supported– such as an extremely harsh treatment of whistle-blowers, and a much more robust assertion of the right of the government to spy on us than I would have hoped for from our constitutional-lawyer president.

    Whatever the answer, i did not make this piece about Obama. I made it about an aspect of the TPP about which many other people have raised the alarm. I will provide one such voice in a second comment.

  • Andy Schmookler

    If one Googles the TPP along with such things as “national sovereignty” and “corporate power grab,” one discovers that there is alarm about these matters being expressed on both the left and the right. The right has raised so many false alarms about the loss of national sovereignty that — even though they do not generally worry about excessive corporate power — they are a bit in the “Little Body Who Cried Wolf” category, lacking full credibility.

    But I also know some people in the Bernie world who have focused on this issue, and they too are alarmed by the implications for our control of our destiny that I’ve delineated above.

    Also among the voices on the left is Chris Hedges, who has written this passage:

    “These three agreements [one of which is the TPP] solidify the creeping corporate coup d’état along with the final evisceration of national sovereignty. Citizens will
    be forced to give up control of their destiny and will be stripped of the ability to protect themselves from corporate predators, safeguard the ecosystem and find redress and justice in our now anemic and often dysfunctional democratic institutions. The agreements—filled with jargon, convoluted technical, trade and financial terms, legalese, fine print and obtuse phrasing—can be summed up in two words: corporate

    “The TPP removes legislative authority from Congress and the White
    House on a range of issues. Judicial power is often surrendered to three-person trade tribunals in which only corporations are permitted to sue. Workers, environmental and advocacy groups and labor unions are blocked from seeking redress in the proposed tribunals. The rights of corporations become sacrosanct. The rights of citizens are abolished.

    “The Sierra Club issued a statement after the release of the TPP text
    saying that the “deal is rife with polluter giveaways that would
    undermine decades of environmental progress, threaten our climate, and
    fail to adequately protect wildlife because big polluters helped write
    the deal.”

  • Andy Schmookler

    And here’s a statement about the TPP appearing in In These Times (http://inthesetimes.com/article/18695/TPP_Free-Trade_Globalization_Obama):

    “Like most recent international economic agreements, the TPP only
    glancingly resembles a classic trade deal, concerned mainly with tariffs
    and quotas. Rather, like the WTO agreements or NAFTA, it is an attempt
    to set the rules of the global economy to favor multinational
    corporations over everything else, trampling on democracy, national
    sovereignty and the public good. The more than 600 corporate lobbyists
    who had access to the draft texts used their insider status to shape the
    deal, while labor unions, environmentalists and others offered
    testimony from outside, with little impact.”