Monday, June 10, 2013

A Corporate State - The TPPA

Two of my favourite contemporary political minds in the world are Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin. However, as Americans, much of their criticisms relate to things which are not really applicable here. For instance, the effect of money in politics is dramatically less here in Aotearoa, largely due to the fact that we're a much smaller country, so it is possible to run election campaigns with a relatively small amount of money. In fact the New Zealand First party ran their most successful election campaign in a long time in 2011 on the smell of an oily rag, which was quite impressive. On the other hand the Conservative Party, spending a comparatively huge amount of money didn't even make it past the 5% threshold to get seats.

Trying to relate the barrage of criticisms against corporate control of the American political system found in the writings of Hedges and Wolin (among others) to our system has been difficult. We have a representative democracy, we can participate in our political and legislative processes if we desire and have the potential to influence them. This situation is completely unlike what is observed in the U.S. where, largely due to the amount of money that politicians need to raise to even get elected, the political process has been taken out of public hands, and into corporate hands. This corrupt system, which Wolin calls Inverted Totalitarianism, couldn't be further from what we experience. We currently have MPs from seven different political parties in our parliament, while for all intents and purposes, the U.S. only has one, the Party of Wall Street.

It dawned on me only recently a way in which this abhorrent and alien system of political theatre could be related to the New Zealand system and that is through the TPPA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Though it is labelled a free trade agreement, this is largely inappropriate, as the agreement reaches far beyond trade, and into domestic political process. As Jane Kelsey points out in 'Hidden Agendas: What we need to know about the TPPA': "What is being proposed looks very different from a traditional free trade treaty, which in the past focussed on border taxes (tariffs), quotas that limit the quantity of an imported good, and import licences that said who could import goods, in what amount, from where and when. ... The TPPA aims to achieve a seamless regulatory environment for the cross-border movement of goods, capital, data and elite personnel and their related commercial activities based on US-centric interests and rules."

As you are probably aware, international agreements, as this is, are binding on future governments. If we sign on to this agreement, which has been formulated for the benefit of US corporations, future democratically elected governments will be legislatively bound by the profit margins of any foreign commercial or financial interests (from TPPA countries). Now it should be pretty clear from this picture that I'm painting that the dire political straits that American democracy is in are not completely unrealistically applicable here in the near future. While American politicians do the bidding of their corporate financiers in order to obtain money for re-election in the next cycle, ours will do the bidding of US corporations because they have no other choice. If they do not they will face Investor-State arbitration and may be found financially liable, forced to pay out to a corporation, if policy the government enacts negatively affects the corporate bottom line.

The TPPA is nothing but corporate colonialism. American economic imperialism you might say. It is a threat to our political autonomy, our national sovereignty and our democracy. We stand to gain extremely little (arguably nothing at all), while losing a lot. These so-called free trade agreements are being pursued for purely ideological reasons, and they are not for the benefit of most. They serve to further augment the profits of large foreign capital holders, at the expense of the majority.

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